Sudden snow overwhelms RRTA operators By Chip Smedley, Staff Writer, email@example.com
The rush-hour snow squall of Friday, Jan. 25, didn't snarl only car-bound commuters. Red Rose Transit Authority bus riders felt the impact as well.
One worker in center-city Lancaster said he decided that rather than drive home to Columbia in the slushy mess, he'd leave his car in the parking garage and take the bus. But, arriving for the scheduled 7:15 bus, he encountered a group of people still waiting for the 6:15 bus, which had yet to show up at the Queen Street terminal.
What particularly caught his attention was the plight of two small children who had been at the bus stand for an hour.
"I don't know if they were first or second graders, two little nice guys crying because they said they couldn't feel their feet. The one wanted his mother to give him his book bag, which he ultimately laid in the bus wait area and curled up on trying to get warm."
Seeing that the interior waiting area was vacant, except for a custodian cleaning its interior, the rider approached the mother and suggested she take the boys inside. She said she already had gone to the waiting area and, finding it locked, tried to convince the custodian to open the doors so people could stay warm while waiting for the bus. The custodian said he was not allowed to unlock the doors and, according to the rider who contacted the Watchdog, added that he would be fired if he did.
The rider then said he attempted to call the RRTA-supplied number to check on the status of the bus, but no one answered the phone.
Identifying what the rider called a number of "bizarre aspects" to the situation, he wondered why RRTA wasn't able to provide updated information about the status of its buses and why the terminal couldn't be opened for passengers.
The problems on Friday, said RRTA executive director David Kilmer, were a result of the sudden onset of the rush-hour storm and simple economics.
Kilmer said the RRTA information number (397-4246) receives about 2,000 calls every day. But during periods of inclement weather, like Friday, the number of calls often triples. Since there are only two operators on call in the evenings (they work until 11 p.m.), a flood of calls can be overwhelming.
Kilmer suggested that bus riders sign up for RRTA's text alert service. People can call the RRTA office, provide their cellphone number, and any information about delays or service problems will automatically be texted to their cellphone.
Kilmer said Friday's storm caught many people by surprise.
"I've been here a long time," he said, "but no one was expecting road conditions to get that bad that quickly. We had buses stuck in traffic everywhere."
As for opening the terminal, Kilmer said it closes at 5:30 p.m. and sometime thereafter a third-party contractor begins to clean the interior.
He said staff members occasionally volunteer to stay after closing time to keep the terminal open, but if no one wants to stick around, the terminal must be closed.
Additional employees, whether they are answering the phones or keeping the terminal open past normal hours, would have to be paid more money in a time when the already cash-strapped transit company is dealing with several budgetary issues.
As a local transportation official recently told the Watchdog, "Everyone wants public transportation, but no one wants to pay for it."
This is not a reference to Skyfall, the ancestral home of Ian Fleming's iconic agent 007, but to the small structure in Buchanan Park near Race Avenue.
A reader wondered about the building's future.
But first, some history, courtesy of the Watchdog's faithful companion and colleague, Jack Brubaker (aka "The Scribbler").
The building was designed to sell Liberty Bonds in Penn Square during World War I.
It's a replica of the county's second courthouse and was originally on the southeast (Lancaster County Convention Center) corner of the square.
After the war, the city moved the building to the park as a storage site for maintenance and recreational equipment. It also shelters equipment used for the annual Buchanan Park carnival.
In fact, proceeds from that carnival have been earmarked to finance the building's restoration, which is being done by the city's Loyalty Day Committee.
Lancaster's director of public works, Charlotte Katzenmoyer, said the committee continues to seek support to finance that restoration work.
Joe Wells of the committee said anyone wishing to help with the restoration project, or even provide personal reminiscences regarding the house, may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-9697.
"We are concerned about the street surface where some repair was done some months ago," a reader wrote in an email. "It is on East Liberty Street at North Christian Street extending across two lanes, and it is nearly impossible to avoid the several-inch deep depression."
Katzenmoyer said she is aware of the situation and has asked the contractors who performed the original work to return and fix the problem.
After trench work is done, she said, "it needs to settle for three months before permanent pavement restoration can be completed. But the contractor does need to maintain it."
She added, "We try to keep on top of these with inspections, but when there is a lot of rain it creases the settlement process because cold patch [asphalt] is so porous."
Another city driver wonders, "At one of the wildly popular and famous 'bump-outs' [aka bulb-outs] in the middle of the 100 block of North Lime Street, the brick crosswalk was removed and replaced with asphalt. I always wondered why, with the weight of modern vehicles, brick was used for these crossings. There are many more durable materials that can be made to look like brick and have a much lower maintenance cost. Being no engineer, I have no idea about any of this. Any insight you could provide would be helpful."
Katzenmoyer said the bricks at this particular location were removed because one of the neighbors said the rumbling traffic crossing them "rattled" the building.
As for the use of bricks themselves, Katzenmoyer explained, "The bricks we use are traffic-rated bricks and are built for roadway use."
They are designed, she said, to easily handle even a dump truck with a tandem rear axle and "are used on streets in Pittsburgh in many locations, not just in crosswalks but often in lieu of pavement.
"These are," she concluded, "not your typical building bricks."n