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Confusion on Code Red

Metro says it has fixed the way it receives notifications about Code Red air quality days so that it can get the word to its bus drivers that it's time to offer free rides.

On Monday, the transit authority says, it didn't realize till 7:28 a.m. that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments had posted the alert for unhealthy levels of ozone. The alert triggers the free ride program on most suburban bus lines and on most Metrobuses in the suburbs.

The Council of Governments declared the Code Red alert for Monday at mid-afternoon on Sunday.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says the alert came in by e-mail and by fax, but transit authority personnel had a problem reading each of them. The fax blotted out the Code Red wording and Metro's computer couldn't read the HTML parts of the e-mail, only the text. Metro says the text didn't indicate the Code Red designation.

Anyone can look at COG's Web site and see the air quality designation. For today, it was Orange, meaning the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and there are no free bus rides. For Wednesday, it's Yellow, meaning the air quality is moderate and there are no free bus rides.

You can sign up for your own e-mail alerts about air quality.

Metro needs to have a little more assurance than checking a Web site, since the suburban jurisdictions that subsidize the free ride days must pay for the bus service.

But it would inspire more confidence to know that some Metro manager had noticed over the weekend that the temperature was soaring while the air was becoming less breathable and remembered what could happen during such weather patterns.

More aggressive steps could have been taken to ensure that the drivers began their trips on Monday morning with the correct information.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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