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Rantz: When it snows in Seattle, King County Metro just abandons you

Only the brave dare ride the bus during a snow event in Seattle. (Jason Rantz)

A key talking point for King County Metro – and extremist urbanists – is that you can ditch your car and Metro will take care of you. Want to avoid the traffic? Hop on the bus, you’ll get through a few chapters of the book you’re reading. Need to get somewhere? Give yourself just a little extra time and Metro has got you covered.

Unless it snows. Then Metro leaves you stranded unless you somehow intuit their confusing snow route. And for a County home to one of the most tech savvy companies in the world, Metro is really bad at some pretty basic concepts like blogging or having a reasonably navigable website.

I used the bus on Sunday morning to get from South Lake Union to Roosevelt. Well, I tried to use the bus. It didn’t go so well.

Metro spent the weekend operating their Emergency Snow Network (ESN) – meaning, they’ll operate the major routes, but that’s about it. And you’ll only know this if you happen to go to their clunky website or follow them on Twitter, two things only transit nerds regularly do.

I waited for about 20 minutes but the bus didn’t come. The OneBusAway app told me the bus had come and gone twice since I was waiting there. It did not.

I ordered an Uber (that thing I’m not supposed to do if I’m relying on a bus).

After complaining about the lack of service on Twitter, someone linked me to a Saturday morning blog post announcing the ESN. I wasn’t sure it was still valid since Metro hadn’t bothered to update the website since 1:30pm the day before. And, of course, Metro chooses not to post physical notices on the route that it’s not operating as normal. That might require planning and mobilizing staff to do some actual work.

I discovered that my route was considered a major one, so it would be operating. Only, the major routes don’t actually operate on their routes, making a blog post with this info rather useless:

Routes operating as part of the ESN will serve core centers around King County, via routes 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 21, 24, 24 shuttle, 31, 32, 36, 40, 41, 44, 45, 48, 62, 62 shuttle, 65, 70, 75, 90 shuttle, 101, 102 shuttle, 106, 106 shuttle, 120, 124, 128, 150, 166, 168, 169, 180, 181, 235, 245, 248, 252/255 shuttle, 255, 255 shuttle, 271, 331, 345, 348, 348 shuttle, 372 Woodinville and 372 Lake City, ST 522, ST 545, ST 550, ST 554, ST 554 shuttle, RapidRide A, B, C, D, E and F lines.

So, I navigated the clunky site and found a map for the snow route — a map in what appears to be in PDF form. Meaning, it’s not easy to use on your phone, which is what you’d likely be using when trying to figure out where to go, now that you’ve waited 20 minutes for your bus like an idiot.

I decided to try the bus once more, this time to get back home from Roosevelt. Well, that was a mistake.

I waited, along with others, at a stop for my route but apparently it was the wrong stop. This is normally the right stop but we’re in an ESN world now baby! A bus driver across the street let us know to come on the opposite side and wait for the bus. The very-much-non-interactive map on Metro’s website wasn’t particularly clear.

My feet were cold.

The bus showed up but the driver, who was quite friendly, but didn’t really know the route, nor the bus stop nearest my normal route. After a brief chat, we were on our way. As the bus filled up, we got back onto the route that I was familiar with.

But then the bus broke down. It just turned off.

“The battery broke,” the driver told us. We were to get off the bus and wait for another route to come and we’d get off at the next stop, then hop back on a different bus. It would arrive in 10 minutes. But then he said, actually, 15 minutes.

The bus couldn’t come soon enough, as an angry homeless woman kept shouting vulgarities from the back of the bus, including a anti-gay slur at her (invisible?) friend. A woman next to me – with skis – was wondering if the homeless woman would cause any problems. I jokingly told the woman she could always skip the bus and cross-country ski to meet her friends, but she took it literally and explained to me that there wasn’t enough snow for that. I stopped talking to her and walked off the bus.

I’m starting to not feel my feet at this point.

Another bus finally arrived and we boarded in the middle of the slippery street, the disabled bus blocking the bus stop. I helped an old woman navigate her way to the bus, satisfying my pledge to do one good deed a month (yes – just one good deed, as I’m not a particularly nice person; given I don’t like touching strangers, thanks to my intimacy issues, I considered this a good enough deed to satisfy February and March).

After we get off at the next stop, freezing, waiting for the next bus to arrive, there’s some general confidence that the next driver will probably come at some point in the next hour. Or never. We were confident that we were unsure and there’s no real way of knowing if Metro is operating effectively.

But, the bus came about five minutes later, right as I lost feeling in my feet.

I asked about the bus stops on this new route. The driver told me he didn’t really know but he’d stop whenever I’d ask him to. That seems wrong and maybe even dangerous.

I sat down on a full bus, next to an empty seat occupied by an empty 7-11 pizza box and a metal spoon. I’m not entirely certain if the same person was responsible for both the pizza box and the spoon, since, afterall, you don’t use a spoon to eat pizza. It’s possible a man saw the pizza box there as trash and decided it would be the perfect time to finally dispose of the silver spoon he was inexplicably holding on to. I wondered how long the trash was there, unnoticed or ignored by the driver. When someone needed the seat, I put the trash under the chair and he sat down (he didn’t seem willing to move the trash himself).

I had two thoughts at this point: 1. I wonder how long the trash will stay there undisturbed by Metro staff; and 2. this good deed satisfies my April pledge.

I recognized a bus stop as the one likely to put me closest my apartment, and I got off the bus and got to my block. I passed by the same bus stop I waited at for 20 minutes that morning and saw people waiting impatiently. I told them the bus isn’t coming and they should go to the spot I had just left. One guy didn’t hear me, so I repeated myself. Then a confused-looking couple who heard my message twice already (but maybe didn’t trust me), and a man who just walked to the stop, asked me if the bus was coming. I repeated myself and they thanked me.

I can now skip good deeds until August!

The entire cold process took well over an hour; my Uber ride took about 8 minutes.

There’s no doubt I have enmity for Metro. They routinely let me down because they don’t care about me or you as a customer. They know they have an army of anti-car, urbanist extremists who will always sing their praises, no matter their performance. I can’t say, however, I’m that mad after this experience. Not because it was snowy and they get some leeway; but because I expect them to be about this bad. I guess I expect them to better communicate when they ditch routes, but I can’t say I’m shocked by the incompetence.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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