Brrrrrr: 6 Tips for Riding Transit in Bitterly Cold Conditions

Urbana, Illinois—With bone-chilling cold gripping a wide swath of the country, it’s a good time to go over some tips for safely and warmly navigating public transit in bitterly cold conditions. Having operated in every sort of weather in Champaign-Urbana and Savoy for 47 years, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) has the following suggestions:

#1 Dress Warmly: When the temperature is below zero, frostbite can set in within a half an hour. The National Weather Service has created a pictorial guide to dressing for outdoors in chilly, cold, and extremely cold conditions. Please take their advice to wear layers and cover exposed skin.

#2 Think Ahead: Planning is important and subzero days are definitely not the time to just wing it. Put some thought into where you will transfer—is there someplace warm to wait at your transfer point? Confirm your trips before leaving for your stop: download an app or call 217.384.8188 to plan around reroutes and to check schedules. When using or an app, please remember that MTD’s real-time information updates every 30 to 60 seconds—for the latest information, hit refresh.

#3 Stand at a Safe Location: When snow or ice impede your ability to safely stand at your stop, please choose the nearest safe location. MTD Operators are accustomed to looking for passengers who might be near, but not at, their stop during winter weather.

That said, MTD’s Maintenance team works hard to clear ice and snow from stops and shelters. This year’s white Christmas meant that a team of five worked the holiday to get a jumpstart on plowing and clearing MTD stops. During a prolonged period of snow or ice, it may take some time to clear every stop. MTD asks passengers and the public to report stops that need attention: call 217.384.8188 to report snow or ice or other unsafe conditions at any MTD bus stop.

WCIA-3 interviews MTD Maintenance Worker Mike Chubb on Christmas Day

#4 Understand Why Operators Stop Where They Do: Bad weather adds a lot of variables to an Operator’s route. During inclement weather, Operators are trained to use their best judgement at each stop and, if they are unable to stop near a curb because of accumulated snow or ice, they may make a decision to stop an extra distance from the curb to avoid a trip hazard. If you are concerned about safely boarding any bus, please let the Operator know so they can employ the ramp or offer other assistance.

“Safety and customer service are MTD’s top priorities,” said MTD Customer Service Director Amy Snyder. “We are here to help. We urge passengers to communicate directly with their Operators about their needs, and they can also call us at 217.384.8188 anytime buses are on the streets with concerns or for assistance.”

#5 Don’t Succumb to Heater Hate: “It’s too hot!” “It’s freezing!” Because MTD buses don’t have the same kind of heat controls that automobiles do, questions and comments about bus temperature are frequent during winter months. The fact is, most MTD buses do not allow for manual temperature control by an Operator. Newer MTD vehicles have advanced sensors throughout the bus, much like a home with central heating and air conditioning, except the Operator only has an On/Off switch. When the heat is turned on by the Operator, the sensors help maintain a stable temperature between 68 and 72 degrees. Based on how many people are on board, how often the doors are opening and closing, and other factors, the registered temperature of the bus will vary. Older MTD buses from 2001 and 2003 do not have this advanced equipment and the Operator has slightly more control over the temperature, but for the most part, the bus you board will have a heating system run by sensors, not the Operator.

#6 Know About Kneelers: When temperatures drop (usually below zero degrees Fahrenheit), MTD Operators are routinely instructed not to kneel their bus because of a risk of freezing that can prevent the bus from returning from the kneeled position. The Operator can still operate the ramp to help passengers board and alight, so please let them know if you need assistance.

MTD offers mobility options to residents of Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Illinois that include buses, rides for seniors, ADA Paratransit, ZipCar availability, SafeRides home for Illinois students at night, and resources to encourage walkability, biking, and safety.