February 16, 2009
When Ice Storms Paralyzed Louisville, TARC Kept Buses Moving
On Jan. 28, a major storm blew across the midwestern U.S., bringing with it frigid temperatures and snow and ice that put a thick coat of silvery glass on cars, trees, and utility wires. However, the icing that created a winter wonderland in Louisville, KY, also downed trees and utility lines and caused power outages to more than 200,000 customers locally.
The storm forced many businesses, schools, and doctors’ offices to close their doors and left many residents in homes without heat. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency, and President Obama designated the state a federal disaster area.
On the afternoon the storm began, the Transportation and Maintenance departments of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville made sure that all 185 of its buses pulled out of the garage for the afternoon peak. As the storm worsened the next day, TARC put out service advisories on all routes and kept track of detours on streets with downed trees and power lines.
Over the next two days, TARC radio and road supervisory members managed more than 40 detours at any one time.
Meanwhile, the TARC3 paratransit operation saw 80 percent of its 1,500 scheduled customers cancel on Jan. 28, and had to reroute vehicles quickly. The paratransit service missed almost no scheduled pickups, and the extra capacity on the vehicles was used to deliver people without power to shelters.
TARC was able to maintain high standards of performance and keep the public informed through the use of technology, backed up by careful coordination and regular internal communications.
“It could have become a totally chaotic situation,” said TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker. “I can’t imagine how we could have managed so well without the technology linking us together and keeping everyone informed.”
Communications between the Transportation, Customer Service, and Marketing departments allowed a regular flow of information on TARC delays and detours throughout the two days of the paralyzing weather. Essential personnel received notification of all changes in routes and schedules through text messages and by e-mail.
Although the storm left TARC’s webmaster iced in, she was able to update the TARC web page by remote. When her power went out, her supervisor was alerted by cell phone and coached on how to update the detour list. The web site’s detour page received 1,500 hits during the first two days of the bad weather, and the agency spokeswoman was able to release the most current information during early-morning media calls to her home.
Customer Service representatives received detailed detour sheets by e-mail, which allowed them to stay on top of the latest information and respond to customer questions by telephone.
In the TARC3 paratransit office, the staff was able to monitor the location of its 78 vehicles equipped with Mobile Data Terminals and operated by MV Transportation. The steady flow of location information meant that the agency could quickly reroute the vehicles when customers canceled their trips. The system used the extra capacity to transport people to shelters and bring essential personnel to TARC. This flexibility and efficiency would have been impossible if the drivers had had to rely on phone instructions or paper manifests.
In spite of the challenging conditions, people got to dialysis, made it to work, and were shuttled to and from emergency shelters. Even the Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop went forward as planned, providing free rides for people attending arts and entertainment events on the last Friday of each month.
TARC is in the process of moving to the next level of technology with the installation of Automatic Vehicle Location devices in its buses later this year, along with an upgraded radio system. Next year, if the arctic breezes again wreak havoc on Louisville, the agency will be able to provide more detailed information at a quicker pace.
One regular rider summed up TARC’s performance this way: “Thank you [TARC] for all you've done throughout this awful week.”