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Greater Cleveland RTA chief operating officer explains snowstorm service shutdown

RTA bus stuck in snow
Rachel Dissell
An RTA bus gets stuck in the snow Monday in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood.

Stranded buses and slipping trains led the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to shut down service during this past weekend’s snowstorm, the system’s chief operating officer said in an interview Friday.

Snowfall Sunday night and Monday morning left 50 buses stuck in the snow around the county, COO Floun’say Caver told Ideastream Public Media. Two Rapid Transit operators on the Red Line reported slipping on hills, he said.

The buses couldn’t easily reverse or take detours down snow-filled side streets, he said. Some ended up in minor fender-benders. Because of the problems on the roads, buses couldn’t be used as backups to halted trains.

“When you have 50 buses stuck, it’s like a game of Tetris,” Caver said. “You can’t keep sending the blocks down.”

Although RTA plows snow from its own facilities, it’s the responsibility of cities to clear the roads. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb contacted RTA during the snowstorm response and sent help to areas where buses were stuck, Caver said.

Rider advocates have called for RTA to explain how the snow brought service to a standstill. And they’ve criticized the agency’s communication to riders during the storm. The transit agency sent notices about service shutdowns on social media, the RTA’s phone app and through traditional news media, Caver said.

“We have and always can get better at communications, because there’s so many communication channels,” he said.

RTA announced the suspension of rail service at 6:30 a.m. Monday. It suspended bus service an hour later. Bus and rail service gradually came back to life that evening, and RTA announced the full restoration of service early Tuesday morning.

Riders still face some obstacles in the form of snowbanks around bus stops. Caver said it’s the job of municipalities to clear those areas but that RTA will help where it can.

Caver said he understood the frustration the shutdown caused to riders but said RTA made the decision in the interest of safety. The agency plans an after-action review of its handling of the snowfall.

“When it becomes unsafe, we have an obligation to—not just a professional obligation but an obligation to our community—to take the course of action that preserves life and the safety of motorists and customers,” he said.
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Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.