Home Asides Scenes from the Snow: Stranded passengers, overloaded websites

Scenes from the Snow: Stranded passengers, overloaded websites

by Benjamin Kabak

As New York City digs itself out from yet another monster snow storm, the city’s public transit system held up admirably well. Although a few bus routes are delayed, trains are running, and service ceased above ground only for a few routes. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a handful of problems though. So let’s run down a pair of them.

Approximately 100 passengers commandeered an N train at 2 a.m. and remained on it at Stillwell Ave. for four hours until the N moved again. Apparently, the train operators didn’t do a very good job communicating the snow changes to customers on the train, and as the service patterns altered with the snow drifts, the MTA eventually decided to take the train out of service. “Of course, there was a strong probability that the train would not make the run easily and what we did not want to do is strand these customers on a stalled train between stations,” MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said. Eventually, the passengers convinced MTA employees and police officers to let them stay in the heated train, and they had shelter for the night.

The MTA’s website suffered a snow outage as well. For a few hours after dawn on Thursday morning, the site was sluggish or inaccessible as over 500,000 people tried to log on. That number is a testament to the way the MTA has redeveloped its website, and it’s more than double the authority’s usual traffic during weather emergencies. The MTA, though, acknowledged a need to keep the site running during such times and said it has plans to increase bandwidth capacity. “The website has come under extreme usage,” Jay Wadler said to The Observer. “We have been progressively reducing the amount of graphic content on there to keep it up. But to put this in some context, the early indications are that the website received twice as many hits as it did during the blizzard. It really is a question of expanding the pipe and that’s what we have to figure out how to do.”

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Andrew January 27, 2011 - 6:29 pm

Those passengers were no more stranded than anybody else who found themselves without the subway or bus service they were looking for. It’s not like anybody was stuck on a train. (On the contrary, these people refused to get off the train!)

Perhaps some of these riders were first-timers, unfamiliar with the lay of the land, but I think most regular riders in that area know that their lines tend to have difficulty in the snow. If you’re using those lines in the middle of a major snowstorm, there’s a considerable risk that you won’t reach your destination right away.

I wonder how much sooner the line would have reopened if everybody had gotten off the train when they were asked to. According to the NY Times, “transit officials asked passengers to leave the train so that it could be used to sweep iced-over tracks.”

That station has a large crew facility upstairs. Were passengers allowed access? (And if they were, did anybody bother to tell them, or did they have to discover it by accident?) If I had to choose which outdoor station to be stuck at, Stillwell would probably be my first choice.

nycpat January 28, 2011 - 12:25 am

Homeless people often refuse to get off trains. Passengers are forbidden in crew rooms. I don’t think you’ve thought through the liability issues involved in letting the general public into crew rooms.

Andrew January 28, 2011 - 6:46 am

I’ve thought them through. Have you thought through the the liability issues of telling 100 passengers that they have to wait outdoors for four hours during a major snowstorm? These were exceptional circumstances.

Then the train could have been used as a sweeper, as desired.

nycpat January 28, 2011 - 10:15 am

100+ people? How big do you think crew rooms are in the subway? It’s not like there is room for pool tables like in bus depots. Who protects the crew’s property and equipment?
If they suspend service where do stranded crews go? In a crew room full of homeless? How then do they rest for their next shift? This happens when it snows, workers stay in crew rooms and are available for their next shift.
This is a new policy and must be thought through. A train should be available for stranded passengers. Transit workers have a need for clean and safe crew rooms because the rest of their working environment isn’t clean or safe.

Andrew January 30, 2011 - 9:48 pm

The crew room at Stillwell is pretty big. Yes, it might get a bit crowded. Better than telling people to stand outside and freeze.

Crews have lockers to protect their property and equipment.

A crew room full of homeless? Is that how you think of your customers?

You suggest that a train be made available. Of course, the whole problem is that the trains aren’t running – what if a train can’t be made available? And even if a train is available, trains don’t have bathrooms or food, which some customers might find useful. (Do crew rooms have snack machines?)

This may come as a surprise, but the subway is there to serve its customers, not its employees.

al January 27, 2011 - 7:41 pm

I think the MTA should consider an intuitive but bare bones version of its site with the same information for just such events when the demand for information goes through the roof. A good rule of thumb would be web pages that loads quickly with 56k or ISDN internet connections.

John January 28, 2011 - 9:32 am

They basically do that now. During bad weather they replace their front page with a mostly text-based one.


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