White Chaos

I occasionally poke fun at my American friends whose communities seem to be unable to handle a severe winter storm. Canadians, I tell them, aren’t afraid of a little snow. We know how to deal with the stuff.

My contempt has its roots in a trip to New York City in 2001, where we experienced what local meteorologists were calling “the storm of the century.” Schools were shut down, as was the transit system. At one point during that storm I had to go out to move my car due to parking regulations. I didn’t bother putting on my boots, there wasn’t enough snow. Canadians have different standards I guess.

Ottawa did get hit with a major winter storm yesterday, and for the most part I think the city was prepared. School transit was cancelled (there was a freezing rain possibility which does make driving treacherous) and police were patrolling on snowmobiles. Office workers were sent home early due to transit concerns.


Hopefully my neighbour remembers where he left his car – he might have difficulty finding it this morning.

I didn’t see it as that big a deal – the main roads were plowed and traffic was moving, albeit at a slower pace than normal. The meteorologists were I presume a little embarrassed: they had predicted 20-30 cm of snow would fall during the day. When I got home and started shoveling at 4 p.m. there was already 46 cm on the ground and the snow was continuing to fall. (That was a new single day record for the city.)

The people who should feel really embarrassed though where the ones who run our public transit system. I suspect however that they are incapable of shame. They failed miserably at delivering people back home at the end of the work day in any sort of timely fashion.

The reason for that was not traffic volume or even snow as much as a policy decision taken decades ago that turned out to be ill-advised but no-one at OC Transpo wants to admit it, which means the city occasionally suffers from bus-generated traffic chaos.

About 30 years ago the city started buying articulated buses for the transit system. They are European designed and hold 50% more passengers than a traditional bus. In theory that means they can deliver passengers faster and cheaper than the alternative. But the buses aren’t designed for winter, they don’t like snow. (Europeans might disagree, saying they do indeed have snow in winter, but I don’t think they get the routine storms that we do, 20-30 cm or more at a time.) In heavy snow articulated buses get stuck.

Found this picture of a stuck articulated OC Transpo bus on Twitter last night. You can see how it blocks the intersection.

Found this picture of a stuck articulated OC Transpo bus on Twitter last night. You can see how it blocks the intersection.

You would think that when OC Transpo discovered that back in the 1980s hey would have stopped the experiment. Instead what they did was bought more articulated buses, so now a larger percentage of their fleet is made up of buses that get stuck when it snows. Yesterday that was so obvious.

Listening to traffic reports on the radio there were numerous reports of stuck buses, in each case an articulated one. On my commute (which took an extra hour) I made sure to take a route that uses older style buses. I was reading a book on the ride so not paying much attention to the traffic, but saw at least three stuck articulated buses. And, of course, when one of those big buses gets stuck they frequently tie up more than one lane of traffic.

So here we are, 30 years later and OC Transpo still can’t get it right. At this point I figure they will never admit they don’t know how to handle winter – and commuters will be the ones who suffer. I doubt anyone in management takes the bus to and from work.



  1. We have the same on the streets in Russia 🙂

  2. Near my place, on Blohm, an articulated bus got stuck in a 3-way intersection. A regular bus also got stuck in a snowbank. I guess the regular bus was getting sympathetically stuck.

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