Here is some context to the bus shutdown on Friday. I know it is frustrating, but we call it a snow emergency for a reason.
Below I am repeating some the information I shared on Friday with Council Members Hickey, Campion and Bilderback.
The decision to run, delay, or partial or full shutdown involves various inputs; weather forecasts (including the projected timing of the storm), street conditions, the plowing/ sanding schedule and consultation with Mayo. A final decision is made jointly by the City Transit and Parking Manager and First Transit General Manager. The bus routes for the most part are on arterials or neighborhood collector streets. A number of years back a policy was set in place that bus routes would have priority in regards to order of plowing for City streets. (RPT routes also operates on roads under the jurisdiction of the Olmsted County and MnDOT.) The discussion starts with a staff meeting the day before the forecasted event where all information is reviewed. The plan for public dissemination is also laid out. A review of actual conditions depends on the timing. The last major storms were overnight events. Therefore, a review of conditions including a visual observation of street conditions started at 2:00 a.m.. A decision to shut down for the last storm was made at 4:00 a.m..
RPT also parks 1500 commuters in its park and ride lots. The leases require all lots to be cleared by 6:00 a.m. Some lots are cleared by RPT’s snow contractor. In the last storm two lots representing about 50% of our capacity did not get cleared by 6:00 a.m. These were owner operated. We will be following up with the owners.
Following is a summary of events for the February 24 storm.
Planning started (2/23) with an operations meeting to discuss the street plowing schedule, forecasts and the various community cancellations. Communications were also initiated with Mayo. On February 23 (the day before the storm) RPT posted that passengers should consult the website and media as to RPT’s status. Mayo was also asked to post alerts on their internal website.
A reconnaissance by RPT/FT (First Transit) of street conditions started at 2 a.m. with review of the forecast and the plowing schedule. The decision to shutdown was made at 4:00 a.m. The alerts were sent out to media and posted on the website and RPT’s AVL phone app after the decision was made. Dispatchers were still called in to answer calls. Most major roads appeared to be clear by 7:00 a.m. but there was a lot of glazing with a continuing fine mist that was freezing on the road surface. A mid- morning reconnaissance of routes and park and ride lots was made followed by a RPT staff meeting at 10:00 a.m. to discuss whether drivers should be called in for the remainder of day. Staff consulted with street maintenance and the weather forecasts that were predicting a second storm starting at 11 :00 a.m. We were informed there would be no sanding because of the next storm coming in.
These are hard calls to make. They are white knuckle events (stressful) for drivers. Last winter (2016) there was a similar storm where we decided to run as the plows started at 4:00 a.m. RPT started out from the garage at 5:00 a.m. The weather shifted and we had a significant snow fall after the decision was made requiring RPT to pull buses and shut down for 2 hours.
Our practice after each of these events is to have a debriefing and assess our performance. We will be discussing with Infrastructure the timing of snow removal at the downtown bus stop area to accommodate bus turning movements. There are always things we can do better. We have excellent service and coordination from the Infrastructure Division (street maintenance). The final decision is driven by road conditions and safety.
Anthony J Knauer
Transit and Parking Manager
4300 East River Road
Rochester, MN 55906