Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Storm Chaos

As most people know, since it has been on the local news 24/7, and even made national news, the Puget Sound area was hit pretty hard by a winter storm. Actually, whenever there is an inch of the white stuff, it is considered a winter storm, so this was pretty legit when it comes to storms.

We registered about 5 inches of snow at our house on Wednesday, but that as followed by about a half-inch of ice on Thursday, followed by another 2 inches of snow. Kind of like a snow-ice-snow sandwich. As I write this on Sunday morning, we are going on our 73rd hour without power (and my bet is we won't get power back until at least Monday). We have since packed up and head North to my in-laws, which has taken most of the stress of. And it has been a stressful week.

I won't go into too many gory details, but I do have a bit of a rant to share. It mostly involves our public transportation system and the communications system they have set up. Before I get into that, I want to say that I am a huge fan of public transportation, and use King County Metro (and sometimes Sound Transit) whenever I can to traverse the 16 miles to work each day. But like most things, especially in my business of public relations, I truly believe that you show your worth when you are faced with the biggest challenges. And in my mind, our public transportation system has a long ways to go to be above par in this level.

I'll start with Tuesday (Jan. 17), which was the first day after the Martin Luther King holiday. We had a light dusting of snow through the night, but during commute hours it turned to slush and the roads were bare and wet. I attempted to catch the 190 route at the normal time of 190, but was about 15 minutes early figuring they would be off schedule a bit. I waited, and waited, and waited...and no bus came. Not for an hour, and decided to drive into work with what was probably my easiest commute in the last two months. I never could figure out why the last two 190's never showed up, but that was just the start of my METRO nightmares.

Wednesday was a pretty easy day, and no rants. My work was closed, and we spent the day looking at 4 inches of beautiful snow. We even got to take Charlie outside so he could experience his first snow.

And then there was Thursday, the day that I will deem my version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I certainly did my best John Candy-Steve Martin impersonation. My plan was to catch an early bus outside our neighborhood (route 152). I walked the 1/2 mile to the stop...and waited about 30 minutes before I tweeted Metro asking if this route was operating. They graciously answered right back, telling me to call into Metro's operation center, which I somehow got through to, and they said the 152 was canceled. Determined to make it into work, I started the mile-or-so walk to the freeway station to catch the 190. About halfway there, trudging through a nice ice/snow mixture that makes walking fun, a 152 bus blows by me. You can only imagine the words that came out of my mouth!

Once I reached the freeway station, a lot of buses showed up, but no 190's. So I tried to outsmart the system, taking a Sound Transit 574 to the airport, and then catching LINK Light Rail into downtown. In theory, and on most days, this would have been a solid alternative, but not with my luck. I reached the airport really easily, almost too easily, and jumped right onto a train, but only one problem, that train was not moving. And it didn't move...for a long time. In fact, in 1 hour, 15 minutes, it moved 5 feet, and after those 5 feet and 1 hour, 15 minutes, I decided it just wasn't my day and I was heading home. I caught a 574 back to the 272nd freeway station, and then walked home. It was almost a blessing in disguise not getting into work, because it sounds like getting home may have been even more of a challenge.

I know there were a lot of challenges with the weather, and I fully expected to have delays, and I prepared for that. What I am most frustrated with is the communication play they have setup and the overall lack of information that is available. Here is my main point behind this rant. King County and the news stations stress the importance of staying off the roads for safety, and utilizing public transportation. But, when you can't rely on the public transportation system, what are you to do?

I know King County Metro has a funding problem, and there is probably no perfect solution, but just having a communication plan that points you to a website (where updates aren't even accurate) or an over-crowded call center is a start. Do they invest in a GPS system that is easy to track if your bus route is actually on the road? Do they improve the One Bus Away app that is available when routes are running normally?

So, that is my rant. And this is not just a one-time problem. I think I am 0-for-my-last-6 when it comes to using public transportation during winter weather. But I'll still keep my faith in public transportation and continue to use it as much as possible. But I really hope they get their act together when faced with their biggest challenges!

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