By Sandy Modell and Allyson Teevan
Mother Nature’s Blizzard of 2016 delivered a record-breaking snow storm to our area that shut down the City of Alexandria, and the entire region. As a result, Alexandria’s DASH bus system suspended service for three days. Suspending service is not a decision that Alexandria Transit Company (DASH) makes lightly. In the last 32 years of DASH operation, we can count on one hand the number of times the system had to actually shut down completely. People rely on public transit, especially in inclement weather. However, safety is DASH’s number one priority. If road and weather conditions impact the safety of our riders and our employees, closing down the entire system until the roads are passable is certainly an option.
Before any decisions to alter service can be made, DASH’s Operations Team traverse the city streets to assess conditions long before the sun rises to determine if the buses can maneuver safely through Alexandria’s neighborhoods. Many areas of the city, especially Alexandria’s historic district, have narrow streets that already provide a daily challenge even to the experienced professional DASH bus operator. When coupled with two feet of snow, the streets can quickly become treacherous for larger vehicles to navigate safely. Once the DASH road supervisors and managers complete their assessment of the routes, a decision is made by DASH’s top management as to what level of service is safe to operate.
DASH buses are parked overnight indoors in a bus storage area at DASH transit facility. Although they can be started up and ready to depart the facility at a moment’s notice after a major weather event, the amount of snow that fell made it impossible for the buses to get out. During extreme weather events, DASH may be called on by Alexandria’s emergency responders to assist with everything from firefighter transport to providing warming buses for residents who may be without power or heat. To ensure that DASH buses are ready for anything, it is critical that the snow is moved away from the exit doors and a path is plowed so that the buses can be driven out of the building. No sooner did the snow stop on Sunday, the DASH emergency response team made up of operations and maintenance staffs converged on the facility to start the process of digging out.
During the Blizzard of 2016, almost all transit bus service was suspended from Saturday through Monday. On Tuesday following the blizzard, the Federal and local governments remained closed. The City was asking residents to not drive. Since DASH was dug out, it was able to provide a limited Sunday service, operating modified snow routes on the City’s primary streets only, which are the first to be plowed. By running limited service on a shorter span of hours, DASH was able in safely transport people where they needed to go while still being able to get the buses off the street and back to the garage before the roads refroze. On Wednesday, as the roads started to become more passable, more service was restored. By Thursday, DASH was operating full service on all of its routes. And, although the world has returned to normal, DASH is already preparing for the next big one should there be a next one. After all, winter is still with us.
Please refer to the DASH Ride Guide for routes and schedules and stay tuned-in to DASH promotions, service alerts, route schedule changes, events and more!