Transportation Resiliency in the Face of Climate Change

Planning for the Future and Unexpected Changes in Weather Patterns

Changes in climate and weather patterns around the world have had significant impacts on businesses, individuals and government agencies, especially in the public transit sector. In 2017 alone, weather and climate disasters caused $16 billion in damage across the United States. Whether it’s flooding from hurricanes in New York City, massive snowstorms in Boston or devastating California wildfires, transit agencies need to embrace a culture of resiliency and be prepared to respond to disruptions on the fly when their riders rely on them most.

Climate Incidents and their Impact on Transit

Extreme inclement weather can cause strain on an agency in a number of ways, from higher than average ridership to unexpected detours or delays. Being able to manage the unexpected when it happens can help an agency become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Extreme weather can suddenly cripple the infrastructure that a transit agency relies on in numerous scenarios. Here are some real-world examples of how changing climates have had an impact on transit:

  • In 2015, the Boston metropolitan area faced record-breaking snowfall numbers and persistent cold temperatures, causing severe delays on subway lines due to a shortage of functioning subway cars and the replacement of trolleys with shuttle buses. The head of the MBTA encouraged commuters to forego using public transit altogether to alleviate strain on the system. Not an ideal scenario for riders who rely on a public transit agency to move themselves to work, school or other appointments regardless of how much snow is on the ground.
  • California’s continuing struggle with wildfires in 2019 has prompted Bay Area Rapid Transit to formulate a contingency plan in the event that their power supplier PG&E turns off electricity in designated areas to lessen the threat of fires starting from power lines.
  • Network Rail in the U.K. must keep trains running even in unseasonably warm British summers. Rail lines in direct sunlight can be 68°F hotter than the air temperature during unseasonable heatwaves, causing the steel tracks to expand and begin to curve- known as “buckling”. Even with preventative measures, tracks can still buckle and cannot be repaired until the rail temperature has dropped, causing disruptions and delays.
  • Superstorm Sandy caused serious damage to New York’s subway system, flooding tunnels with corrosive saltwater and causing billions of dollars in damage. Repairs to the L train tunnel are projected to close the line for nearly a year beginning in April 2019, forcing commuters on the line to seek out alternate routes between Brooklyn and Manhattan and within the city.

What Does It Mean to Be a Resilient Transit Agency?

In the context of disruption management, resilience is defined by a transit system’s ability to continue functioning efficiently to move riders from one place to another when faced with disruptive or unexpected conditions. This goes for not only everyday service disruptions but also catastrophic weather events. Transportation resilience is of the greatest concern to the individuals and communities an agency serves.

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, and whether you believe that we have caused, and ultimately can stop or reverse the warming of our planet, the data suggests a shift in the severity of storms over the past decade. Simply sweeping the problem under the rug will not make the challenges we face from a changing climate disappear but will only serve to create more severe problems down the road.

Transit agencies must analyze all possible scenarios that could occur in their region in order to implement an effective contingency plan that addresses issues before they occur. The key to becoming resilient is offering riders alternatives that still allow them to reach their destination despite these issues.

Leveraging Disruption Management in CleverCAD for a More Resilient Agency

The Disruption Management module in CleverCAD allows agencies to react quickly to service disruptions that occur due to inclement weather, traffic and road conditions or vehicle maintenance issues. Users can make service changes to address issues on the fly, and all changes are immediately reflected on vehicles and in our BusTime real-time passenger information system. This ensures that both operators and passengers have access to up-to-date information, in real-time.

The Disruption Management module addresses four principal areas including:

  • Bus Bridging/Shuttle Service– Quickly create a brand-new trip or route to accommodate a major disruption or unplanned demand for service.
  • Same-Day Service Change– Quickly modify the service day (e.g. weekday, weekend) in anticipation of a change in operations or ridership, such as during a major snowstorm.
  • Detours– Quickly react to road closures, such as during severe flooding, by rerouting a vehicle, creating an alternate route path.
  • Service Restoration– After the snow has melted or water has receded, restore service back to its regular schedule.

Learn more about how Disruption Management for CleverCAD can help your agency become more resilient.

The Real Big Game MVP: Public Transit

More than 1 million people will descend on the city of Atlanta this week in anticipation of the big game. And while the coaches will be doing their best to put players in position to win the game, members of local public transit agencies will be working even harder to ensure that all of these fans and visitors will be in position to actually see the game.

High Visibility. High Stakes

Large-scale events like championship games, parades, and other sporting events represent tremendous challenges for public transit agencies. It takes months of behind-the-scenes planning, extensive coordination, and the right technology in order to not only accommodate the flood of event attendees, but also to minimize disruption for everyday riders who rely on public transit. 

In addition to being a challenging job, it’s also often a thankless one – pull everything off, and nobody will notice; however, if something does go wrong, agencies risk the wrath of angry riders and the sting of negative press.  

Winning Performances 

With these high stakes in mind, we wanted to highlight – and celebrate – some of the great work that agencies have done when faced with these types of disruptions.

› Rave Reviews: In 2016, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority received rave reviews for their performance on game day. Light rail riders called the transportation experience “seamless” and “orderly.” In total, the agency successfully delivered more than 9,500 fans to the game and got them back home without incident.

› Setting The Budget: For the 2017 game, local transit agencies in Houston allocated more than $1.4 million specifically for expenses related to the event. Some of that budget was used to provide a free shuttle to get people on their way and alleviate congestion.

› Line Realignment: In 2018, Minneapolis hosted what it dubbed the “most transient-reliant Super Bowl ever played.”  The local transit agency pulled all of its light rail lines out of normal service and added direct service to the game. The city’s bus lines played a complementary – but essential – role, focusing on serving everyday customers while adding extra schedules along key routes to the venue.

Lessons Learned 

Of course, not everything goes according to plan and, thanks to the added visibility and stress associated with big events, every fumble is magnified. 

In other years, agencies have struggled to meet not only the demand for public transportation but also to manage the effects it had on their normal service levels. This led to frustrated riders and negative publicity because people didn’t have the real-time information they needed to get where they needed to go.

Championship parades can also prove especially disruptive to public transit systems and riders. Major streets and intersections typically remain closed for hours before and after the confetti falls. This forces the use of alternative routes and irregular schedules to get fans to the parade and to help everyday riders avoid the congestion altogether.  

The Key To Victory: Communications

Whether disruption occurs as a result of a big game or a big snowstorm, its essential to have a plan in place. And, in today’s day-and-age, when a tweet from an unhappy customer can go viral in an instant, that plan must include real-time communications with your riders. If customers know what to expect and have access to up-to-date information, you can minimize customer disruption while maximizing customer satisfaction. 

That’s exactly why we built our Disruption Management Module for CleverCad®, which helps everyone – dispatchers, planners, managers, drivers, and your passengers – get on the same page. Agencies can reroute vehicles and communicate these changes in real-time, eliminating manual delays and processes.

Clever Devices uses cookies on our website to, among other things, fulfill user requests, provide enhanced functionality for our users, and enhance web content. If you continue to use this site, you agree that we can place these types of cookies on your device. For more information, please review our Privacy Policy.