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Brrr! Tips for riding transit in snowy weather

Metrotown SkyTrain station, covered in snow this afternoon!

The weather outside is frightful, so it’s a good time to highlight some handy tips for snowy travelling.

Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but if you are planning on taking transit on a snowy day, there are a number of things you might do to prepare for your ride. We listed a bunch of them in the November 2009 print Buzzer, and they include:

  • Have a transit plan in place, so you know your options for alternate routes, if any
  • Check the weather before you go out
  • Leave extra time for your journey, in case of delays
  • Bundle up for cold weather and wear appropriate footwear so you don’t slip
  • Hit the bathroom before you travel, in case of delays (so important!)
  • Be aware that hilly areas may have delays as it’s harder to get through
  • Move to the back of your transit vehicle so others can board

For our part, we’ll try to get you the latest info on the transit situation through a number of channels:

  • A super-handy source right now is our TransLink Twitter account, which is heavily staffed owing to a November pilot project
  • Our Alerts page
  • Our media YouTube account — for audio clips, updated as needed (primarily for the broadcast media, but also available to the general public)
  • Customer Information at 604-953-3333 (may be very busy on a snowy day)
  • The big video screens on the Expo/Millennium/Canada Line platforms
  • The TransLink mobile site:
  • Radio and TV announcements

You can also view our snow plans in these links: here’s a 2010 media release, a 2009 blog post about CMBC’s snow plan, and a 2009 post about SkyTrain’s snow plan. (Also, here’s a 2009 Vancouver Sun article on how the municipalities are preparing for snow.)

Anyway, hopefully there won’t be snow tomorrow! But if there is, safe travels to all of you and we’ll be working hard to keep the system on track!


  • By Chris, November 25, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

    The Vancouver Sun has an article up today noting how the Canada Line broke down today and quotes the cost of the Canada Line at only two million dollars!

    METRO VANCOUVER — A snowstorm temporarily crippled a section of the $2-million Canada Line during morning rush hour Thursday after TransLink stopped running its de-icing trains, causing snow and ice build-up on the track in Richmond.

  • By Sean (CMBC), November 25, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

    Survived the morning shift, Driving Richmond, New Westminster, Annacis Island… Wasn’t too nuts except maybe between 7:30 and 9:30’ish… Lot’s of slow traffic in Richmond around 8:30 or so… Finished on time at Richmond Centre!

  • By Cliff, November 25, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

    I saw a 157 today in Coquitlam struggling to get up Marmot just past Brunette today. I hope he made it up the hill.

    The driver of a 156 bus slowed and just about stopped as I approached the stop sign at Hillside and Mundy. I bet he was expecting me to slide right past it. Heh, not with studded winter tires I won’t! Good on him for anticipating that regardless; anyone with all seasons likely would have slid right past the sign.

    Speaking of which, if buses in these areas experience these sorts of difficulties with every snowfall, wouldn’t it make sense to carry chains? The ten minutes it takes to outfit the tires sure beats sliding down hills or staying parked until conditions improve.

  • By Ric, November 26, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    I had to wait 45 minutes for the bus on my way to work and as a result was late for work.

    How much extra time should we give ourselves?

  • By Sean (CMBC), November 26, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    Well Ric, how many hills does the bus have to go up or down to get to you? Hills and bridges are the biggest problems… I almost got stuck twice out at 22 St Station due to the icy hills getting into and out of that neighbourhood… Richmond was OK, except for the extra “school” traffic that caused gridlock along Graniville Ave as every kid in Richmond had to be driven to school, one by one, and only one lane of traffic due to the ice too… Lost 20 minutes Richmond Centre to Steveston!

  • By daniel, November 26, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    also another tip is if you are catching a morning bus, since its winter season, it’ll be very dark still out so make sure you use a light source or your cellphone screen glow to wave it to the bus so the driver can see you!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 26, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

    Cliff: passing your chains question along for an answer.

    Sean: Bravo for braving the weather!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 26, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    Chris: Two million! If only. We could have built 1000 Canada Lines using the real cost of the project then :)

  • By Chris, November 26, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

    Hmm, Vancouver Sun have corrected the story, now it says 2 billion. They didn’t make a correction note, however, like other news sites do.

  • By Cliff, November 30, 2010 @ 1:00 am

    Any word on my question about the chains? I’m dying to hear, especially after re-watching a video of a bus in Seattle slide down a hill and noticing that it was equipped with chains!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 30, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    Cliff: Thanks for the reminder! I have the answer now from our fleet management department.

    I can’t imagine the amount of road damage that would be caused by 30,000 lb buses driving around with chains on, nor can I imagine the amount of money (that’s your tax dollars!) that it would cost to implement and maintain such a program. Since our buses run almost exclusively on major streets, I would much prefer to see municipalities salting streets, rather than chains destroying them.

    Positives associated with chains on buses:
    -buses can travel on streets that haven’t been sufficiently salted or plowed.
    -gets people where they’re going.

    -1400 complete sets of chains to stock in inventory and manage (nowhere to store them on the bus).
    -Tens of thousands of dollars of labour to install and remove chains each day.
    -It’s enough labour to keep half of our mechanics employed full-time installing and removing chains.
    -If mechanics are spending half their day installing/removing chains, it means either they’re getting a ton of overtime, or it means they’re not fixing buses that need fixing.
    -That means service cuts because buses haven’t been repaired.
    -Chains will tear up the asphalt on roads and bridges, costing massive amounts of money for TransLink and municipalities to resurface the roads (tax money!).
    -You can’t drive quickly with chains on, so if conditions turn our to be not-so-bad, the buses will be limited to running slowly

    Seems easier to me to have a handful of municipal employees plow and spread sand/salt on major roads, to the benefit of all road users.

  • By Cliff, November 30, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

    Ah, I was under the impression that chains could be equipped at roadside if the conditions warranted it. With no space on the bus to store chains, then yes, they would have to be equipped at the depot and speeds limited to about 35kph. (Picture the 169 on Lougheed going 35kph!)

    One interesting point I’d like to make about the chains, however is that people who use chains and studs can do everyone else a favour when it comes to ice, as these tools break up the ice allowing other vehicles to get a grip on the once smooth surface. (Though studs only help when there is glare ice or ice under the snow, and they wear out very quickly on bare pavement, for anyone else wondering why they just don’t equip all the buses with studded tires.)

    One idea might be to have several of the service vehicles carry chains for the buses. That way, during inclement weather, they can be called in and thrown on for the hill, then removed at the top.

    If a bus (like the one I saw on Marmont) can’t negotiate a hill, what happens? Is a supervisor called in? Does the driver simply call in a reroute? Are half the passengers given shovels and the other half told to push? :p (I wouldn’t mind!)

    In any case, good answer, I thought it may have been a cost issue, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of the logistics behind the decision not to use chains.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, November 30, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

    Honestly, I’m open to the idea of pushing a bus. As long as it isn’t a policy, then I think that the idea merits discussion.

  • By Reva, December 3, 2010 @ 2:45 am

    LOL, I actually saw passengers pushing a bus in the snow once!

    It was sometime in the mid-90’s, during a morning rush at the old Lougheed Mall exchange. There was about 6 inches of snow (and still falling) on top of a layer of slush that had frozen overnight. ALL traffic was having difficulty. There were already 2 marooned buses abandoned at the downhill side of the loop in a snowbank. One bus tried to negotiate the curve to pull into his bay (presumably where the other two had tried to get to earlier) and lost traction on the ice. He drifted to a sideways stop, where he totally blocked the North Road loop entrance, and was there totally stuck.

    A supervisor (working his butt off that day!) asked a few guys waiting at the other bus stops if they could help him out, and together they all managed to shove the bus forward (the ice helped I think!) far enough that other buses could get by.

    It didn’t matter much though because shortly after that conditions were so bad that nothing could get in or out of the loop and drivers were just parking their buses on the street. The supervisor came around to everyone who was still waiting and said if we were expecting a bus in the next two hours, we should just go home.

    That was probably the worst driving conditions I’ve ever seen around here. Yay for those customers who didn’t mind helping that day. And yay for Translink for building the new Lougheed Station loop! :)

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