The DTA rarely cancels service due to winter weather and, in fact, the transit service is used as the measure by which local businesses and schools determine whether to open or to announce a weather-related closing. Given this unofficial community responsibility, the system employees take great pride in prevailing throughout the winter season with no “cancelled service” days. The initial and perhaps most critical preparation for winter weather conditions by DTA staff actually begin months before the first snowflake falls. This involves the development of the specifications for the design and equipping of new bus purchases. All DTA buses are purchased with positive traction, two front auxiliary fans to supplement window defrosters, a heat grid in the destination sign compartment glass plus a fan to increase air flow there. The extra fans are used to prevent a sudden windshield fog up which can occur as buses descend from the higher elevation to the lakeside where temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees different. This condition occurs in both summer and winter. Buses also have an extra front entrance heater, two auxiliary under seat heaters, non-slip floor tread throughout the bus, e-coated radiators and air line dryers.
Winter preparation by the maintenance department begins in October and includes removing the front-mounted bike racks to minimize corrosion due to road salt, mounting re-cap snow tires on the rear of all buses, conducting preventive maintenance (PM) on the air line dryers, auxiliary heaters, heater blower motors and traction control. The PM intervals are also increased on the wheelchair ramps and lifts, and brushes are replaced as needed in the bus washer, as buses are sometimes washed twice a day to remove ice and grime and minimize the effects of corrosion on the body and undercarriage. Each bus is also equipped with an ice scrapper and spray bottle with washer fluid. In October the bus fuel is also switched to a 2 percent biodiesel, with a #2 polar blend which is good to 40 degrees below zero.
The forethought on bus design and equipment and pre-winter preparation by the maintenance department improves operational performance and minimizes mechanical failures during times of extreme winter weather conditions. Other winter preparations by DTA staff include the updating and circulation of the Emergency Procedures Plan to all supervisors and the updating of the list of “Immediate Need Bus Operators” who are available for emergency call-outs by the Duluth Fire and Police Departments for shelter and evacuation. Also, the review of all routes with Public Works officials to identify critical bus routes that require salt, sanding and plowing and updating of the list of critical contacts within their departments. The service cancellation criteria based on roadway conditions, weather forecasts and safety considerations is also reviewed. The DTA policy is to provide a minimum of a two-hour public notice for any cancellation of service due to weather. The public notice is coordinated by the Marketing Department and involves the partnering with a local radio station for a “Winter Traffic and Transit Watch Report”. The program is aired during weekday drive times and as needed during adverse weather conditions. The station airs the reports as a public service and will also carry live bus operations reports from operations supervisors and dispatchers.
Because the majority of calls received by the information operators during adverse weather are only to find out if the buses are running, the recorded phone message is continually updated to reflect weather and operating conditions. This procedure works well to eliminate backed-up phone lines by persons only seeking to find out if buses are running. In addition to the recorded information, the DTA provides updates on its Web site. Route specific information is provided to the call center by the dispatcher who is monitoring the system performance through the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) that includes Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL). Text messages concerning delays of service or changes can also be sent to a series of on-street information signs located at major transit hubs and to the on-board passenger signs. The DTA’s ADA service is operated by a separate contractor; however, the dispatch and reservations system can be monitored and transferred to the regular DTA Dispatch center for backup during emergency conditions.
The DTA Safety Department also conducts safe driving campaigns each year, with the fall effort emphasizing safety tips for winter driving. The combination of a skilled bus operator, a properly equipped and maintained vehicle, and an effective public communications program has proved to be the most effective approach to dealing with winter weather conditions in Duluth, Minn.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is located in the central Gulf of Mexico, which is susceptible to frequent and sometimes very powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. We have experienced the two most powerful hurricanes to strike the United States in recorded history. Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We also experience severe, fast-moving thunderstorms on a regular basis in the summer months. These summer squalls can also spawn tornadoes. The numerous rivers in the area flood occasionally, displacing people from their homes.