Plow at work clearing local roads and spreading salt. Jan Ellen Spiegel

Are you ready for winter?  Got your supply of salt and sand, the old snow shovel dusted off, the snow blower gassed up and ready for fun?

Well, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, our bus companies and commuter railroads are getting ready, too.  But there are challenges ahead.

CDOT says it can’t find enough snow plow drivers to operate its 600 trucks.  But, as you know, they’ve been having recruitment problems for months now, competing against private employers who are paying more.  Right now CDOT needs at least 20 mechanics and 175 plow drivers.  Jobs pay as much as $39 an hour.

By the way… if you’re hired you might get to drive one of CDOT’s newly named snowplows like “Scoop Dogg,” “Plowzilla,” “Buzz Iceclear,” and “Husky McSalty.”

But, as with the towns and cities that clear local streets, the plow drivers need your help, too.  If you hear that snow is coming, get your car off the streets so the plows can do their thing.

On the bus routes, they’re also prepared.  But because they depend on the streets being cleared, riders are always advised to check bus company websites for updates and plan for possible delays or suspended service.

Bad road conditions are great for Metro-North and Shore Line East as must-get-there commuters opt for the rails.  And, to their credit, the railroad runs in all but blizzard like conditions… even when I-95 has been officially closed.

You can thank the railroad’s newer M8 railcars which have proven far more  reliable than the older cars in the fleet.  It used to be that Metro-North would shut down rather than have its older cars break down mid-trip, stranding passengers between stations like the Donner party (please BYO food and water).

And they always have the old diesel train sets which can run in almost any conditions, if needed.

Of course, getting to and from your home station is up to you.  But what happens if you get to the station and find its waiting room is locked? 

That’s what happened to me recently and, rather than seeing my fellow riders shivering in the cold on the platform waiting for a train, I took action.  An email query to our police department found that the waiting room was only scheduled to be open 5 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on weekdays and was closed on weekends!  What a great way to encourage ridership.

Mind you, it wasn’t Metro-North’s fault but my town’s. The towns are responsible for the stations, not CDOT or Metro-North.  So the police department kicked my request for longer waiting room hours to the public works department and they deferred to the town administrator.  A direct email to our first selectman brought immediate action and two days later the waiting rooms are now open ‘til 7 p.m… on weekends, too.

Yes, friends, you can make commuting better for all if you take time to do more than just complain.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.