2020 was quite a year!
From the COVID-19 pandemic and civil rights demonstrations to an historic election, Community Transit and other transit agencies have had to be nimble when it comes to unplanned impacts to service.
We have individuals in various departments who collaborate on changes to service, whether planned or unplanned. By setting up teams and processes in advance, even unplanned events can be mitigated. We chatted with a few key players at our agency to better understand how we handle unexpected events that impact our service.
What kinds of events typically impact our services?
Any number of incidents can cause an unplanned impact to service: demonstrations, construction emergencies, accidents, or weather-related events such as snow, wind or floods.
Community Transit is notified of problems in a variety of ways. “Notification can come from drivers, field supervisors, customers, the media, the Department of Emergency Management, almost anywhere,” says Manager of Contracted Transportation Services Wade Mahala.
Step One: Gather & Clarify Information
The first step is for Community Transit’s dispatch team to get as much information as possible concerning the event. Sometimes that means piecing together incomplete information from different sources, which can be a challenge in evolving situations.
“When an unforeseen event happens, the entire dispatch team and the field supervisors do a great deal of work to ensure the safety of customers while preventing missed trips and handling customer complaints,” says Manager of Transportation Operations Joshua Gutierrez.
Step Two: Implement Changes & Share Information
“Dispatch provides direction to coach operators or has them follow guidance from an on-site public safety agency. If the coach operator is stuck in the situation, Dispatch sends a Field Supervisor to assist,” says Gutierrez.
Once there is clarification on what is going on and an appropriate reroute has been identified, it is entered into the computer system that manages routes in real time.
After the change is entered, several things happen at once.
“We use this system to provide as much real-time information as possible,” says Gutierrez. “The timeliness of these alerts and changes are of the utmost importance because customers rely on us to notify them quickly.”
Internal staff is also notified about the changes for awareness and service tracking.
“It can be challenging to ensure that Customer Care has the most accurate and updated information when a situation is evolving,” says Manager of Customer Care Alison Klink. “We must keep up with operational needs, but we also must be able to share timely and accurate information with our customers.”
While many of our service updates address closures, Klink has found that customers are more interested in being told what their options are. “’Just tell me where to go’ is something we heard over and over from customers during our recent protest-related service variations,” says Klink.
When large protests in Seattle impacted service last spring, the Customer Care call volume more than doubled. “We’re a small team so it became all hands on deck," says Klink. "Almost every one of the Customer Care agents worked overtime every day during the protests.”
Learning from Challenges
While the past year has been exceptionally challenging when it comes to unplanned service impacts, many employees have expressed gratitude for their coworkers.
“I am proud to work with such a great group here at Community Transit,” says Mahala. “They are always looking at how to better communicate to our customers, staff and partners.”
Maintaining employee and customer safety is always our top priority, for this reason we are committed to keeping passengers empowered and informed about their travel options during situations that call for unplanned reroutes.
The best way to stay informed about service disruptions that may cause unplanned routing and cancelations is to subscribe to Rider Alerts. Rider Alerts are also posted on our website and on the @MyCommTransBus Twitter account. For Seattle to Snohomish County travel options when service is disrupted, please visit http://bit.ly/backtosnoco.