The friendly voice of the Regional Transportation Commission is Jim McGrath’s. As public information officer, he gets the sometimes unenviable job of explaining what’s going on with the Truckee Meadows’ public transportation system, Citifare. He keeps a sense of humor, though, and celebrated his fifth anniversary with the organization on Jan. 3.
So what kind of issues are your drivers facing with this monster snow?The biggest challenge that we have is the road conditions being what they are. We have residential streets that we serve that are not plowed. We have drivers who are not familiar with the snow and are not particularly … shall we say … adept at snow driving. We also have the realities of dealing with a city in somewhat of a “snow chaos,” for lack of better words. Our drivers operate generally slower because they are using chains. Then there’s also the challenge of seeing people at bus stops in blistery weather, snowy weather. It’s never easy, but they do a rather remarkable job.
Have you been running on schedule, or is the schedule just out the window?
It’s funny—I just got a letter of complaint about the bus being late in the middle of a snowstorm. The reality of the situation is that the bus drivers are dealing with the same situation that you are. The schedules do tend to get skewed. Delays can run anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. The cool part is there are buses on the route. Buses keep following the route so that at some point the bus will get you there. There are delays, but in the middle of some heavy snow conditions, it’s never a good idea to hold us exactly to the bus schedule. We encourage people to dress warmly, get [to the stop] about 10 minutes early. We’re going to do everything that we can to try to keep to some kind of schedule, but in the middle of two and a half feet of snow, it’s not that easy. It’s five days after a major snow storm, and we’re still dealing with residential and other streets that haven’t been plowed. Our crews are working on them as well.
Are there streets that you haven’t been able to service yet?
No. We do them all. We get through. Sometimes slower, sometimes quicker, but we eventually get there. Most of the buses in heavy weather conditions operate about 15 mph on city streets. They’re slow and plodding, but they eventually get there.
Are the riders happy to see the drivers? Are they crabby?
Generally, the feedback from the drivers has been good. They feel a sense of responsibility to their customers. They feel that they do provide a vital service. I think that is really important to note that the drivers who get out there and do it day in and day out, some of them for many, many years, some for 10 to 15 years of service. They understand their customers, understand that 8-12,000 people rely on us every single day to get to work, and we are their only means of transportation. It’s a noble pursuit. They basically approach it with a bit of a wry attitude, and they’re generally pretty positive, and they also understand that they deal with a diversity of our community.
What was the worst or best story to come out of this storm?
On Friday, New Year’s Eve morning, we were out at about 5:30 in the morning, and I was actually at Channel 4. I’d walked over to do a morning shot. The people were waiting at the bus for the driver, and I went over there to talk to them, I said, "We’re really off schedule, it’s a mess, but the buses are getting through." The woman said, "I’ve been a loyal bus rider for 12 years. I just want you to know that I love our Citifare bus drivers, and they really do make my day on a regular basis." That was pretty much the best story I’ve heard.