Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Fun

Like so many adults, I used to love snow. As a kid, it’s great when school is canceled and you have nowhere to go but outside to make a snowman.
Now my perspective has changed. When it snows, someone from the Community Transit Agency Communications Team gets up at 4 a.m. (hours after Transportation and Maintenance staff have already been at work assessing road conditions and chaining buses). Communications staff post to our website and email Rider Alerts about any reroutes or major schedule changes. Then, we figure out how we’re going to get to the office.

Some people who aren’t regular bus riders turn to transit in snowy conditions. That explains why we had a run on Bus Plus books Thanksgiving week. Of course, as our planning supervisor pointed out, in such conditions the schedule pretty much goes out the window, so to speak.

Buses run late or trips are delayed or canceled during snow or icy conditions for many reasons. Articulated buses do not work well in snow, so when we need to take them off the road to avoid mishaps, that reduces our commuter fleet by 65 percent. That’s one reason we were only able to commit to limited service to Seattle on Thanksgiving week.

Chaining buses for snowy roads – and sometimes needing to take the chains off again a few miles away – can cause delays both due to the chain-up time and the reduced speeds required once chains are on. Reroutes around icy hills can also add time and delay.

Finally, bus drivers have trouble getting to work in bad conditions just like other people, so sometimes manpower is an issue.

That last issue definitely figures in when snow lasts for several days. Consider that the last commuter bus driver from the Monday, Nov. 22 commute returned to base from his Stanwood Route 422 run at 3:50 a.m. Tuesday morning. Safety, as well as contract rules, would not allow that driver to return to work again for at least 8 hours.

We know winter travel can be grueling for our customers as well, whether you’re waiting extra long in cold weather or sitting on a bus that’s moving the speed of traffic (not). Even people who leave the driving to us are wise to stay home in snowy conditions if they can. On Nov. 23, we had only 10 percent of usual ridership to Seattle.

People who do ride appreciate the skill and service of our bus drivers. Of the hundreds of trips we operated and miles we drove, we had only nine minor crashes during the snow, most of which were other people sliding into us. Here’s what one of our Facebook friends had to say on our discussion board about his “Snow Commute:"
"I'm not sure who she was, but she was AWESOME! The driver for Route 415 the night of Nov. 22nd did an absolutely amazing job in handling the situation. She deftly maneuvered the articulated bus through the maze of the jack-knived articulateds on I-5, without a scratch. She kept the bus warm enough and was courteous the entire evening.

I boarded the bus at 4th & Union at 7pm. It took over an hour just to get onto Olive Way and over another hour to get onto I-5. We arrived at Ash Way at 12:30am."
Trevor Vance
R. Bruce Soule is quoted in a North County Outlook story about the snow:
"Five hours on a bus for a one-hour trip is about as much fun as getting a root canal. My thanks to our Community Transit driver who opened up the 'drivers only' bathroom at the Lynnwood Park and Ride when we got there, four hours into our journey home. I hope he gets one heck of a Christmas present this year."
Maybe we could get a non-White Christmas?

Ah, heck. I still love snow. I guess we adults just need to go out and make a snowman sometimes.

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