Oh dear, snow!
We thought maybe, just maybe, we'd escaped! But after days of watching our colleagues around the country having to cope with tons of the white stuff, our helping arrived from around 9pm last night.
We have undoubtedly got away with it lightly compared to many, and I have been filled with admiration over the last few days by the obvious unstinting efforts of the many thousands of staff involved in controlling, driving, maintaining and managing buses, as they struggle to keep services running.
Our own experience pales into insignificance by comparison.
The striking thing though was how quickly conditions deteriorated. The late shift driver on C1 texted me at 2154 to say the first flakes of snow were falling, and within half an hour we were having to pull the service out of some of the side roads. The last couple of trips operated only to drop the few people waiting in Eastleigh, somewhere close to where they needed to be!
So I set the alarm for 0330, with the intention of driving round all the routes in my car before 0600 to see what was viable and what wasn't, but realised pretty quickly after I woke up that there wasn't much point! With snow laying to a depth of around six inches around my flat, and even main roads in the city centre having nothing more than tyre tracks, there was no hope for the back roads!
So I drove into Eastleigh, met those staff who had been able to make it to work, and straight away we decided not to run any school or college buses. Conventional wisdom is that you wait until the schools decide what they are going to do and respond accordingly. But on this occasion, I knew that we wouldn't be able to serve large parts of the routes, and frankly didn't want to be in a position where we took them all to school and then had the responsibility of getting them home again if the situation worsened.
Most of our morning peak run out is involved with school and college commitments, so with those trips cut, frankly there wasn't a lot left to run. In the event, all the relevant schools and colleges closed anyway.
There was still the matter of the public routes to consider however, and one of the drivers volunteered to go and test the A route and I went out on the C.
The A largely sticks to main roads so we have been able to run the vast majority of it for most of this morning.
The C on the other hand winds round all the back streets of Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury. As I drove up Leigh Road, I could see that Oakmount Road and Falkland Road (both normal haunts of the C) were a mess of abandoned cars and the ones that were moving were sliding around. So I decided on a much simplified route sticking to main routes only, on a half hourly schedule.
We agonised a bit over the S2 route in Southampton, but that route is allergic to main routes - everyone time it gets near one it turns away. I was tempted to go and have a look but then I bumped into a Bluestar driver who lives near one of the key parts of the route. From his description of the road conditions in that area, I knew there was no chance of it being viable!
Although it has stopped snowing as I write this, there is no sign of a thaw and a 'pitch inspection' by a controller and one of our drivers within the last hour has revealed that the side roads are still unsafe so I suspect the service pattern we have now will remain in place for the rest of the day.
I hate snow with a passion. I am a complete curmudgeonly killjoy when it comes to snow. In my world, it only ever causes problems (and slashes the revenue in the process). But it has its lighter moments, and if you'd asked me this morning what I would be doing today, the last thing I would have said was that I would be playing Super Mario Kart with the 5-year old son of one of the staff in the bus station cafe, to keep him occupied for a few minutes as he obviously wasn't at school.
As I say, we've got away with it lightly compared to many this time round, but I shall be very pleased when it's over!