Navigating through snow means confronting jumbled options

Making do with slimmed-down travel options in the snow

Eric Milbourn stood inside the warmth of Penn Station in Baltimore on Thursday morning plotting his next move. His usual ride to work, the Charm City Circulator, wasn't running because of the snow.

A few minutes and several taps on his smartphone later, the Mid-Town Belvedere resident had hailed a quick $5 Uber ride and was on his way to his accounting job near the Inner Harbor.

Around the same time, Staci Hull sat in the observation deck at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, watching crews plow and melt snow on a runway and hoping conditions would ease enough for a later flight to Las Vegas.

Hull, sales director for First Data in Hagerstown, a credit-card processing firm, had joined about a dozen other employees on a bus from Western Maryland at 3:30 a.m. to make a 6:40 a.m. flight to a conference out west. But their original flight was canceled.

"We said all we wanted was to feel a little bit of warmth and a little bit of sun on our faces today. It's not going to happen," Hull said.

Across the region Thursday, those who had someplace to be — other than the neighborhood bar or their home telework station — tossed aside set schedules and best-laid plans for any available alternatives amid the season's latest winter treatment: more sleet, ice and snow.

While many workers stayed home, others had a rougher time, in part because MARC trains and commuter buses were canceled. Taxi, ride-share and private sedan companies tried their best to keep up with increased demand, though they cautioned that doesn't necessarily translate into a windfall for them.

Mark Thistel, president of Mount Washington-based sedan service FreedomCar, said his company has a $15 surcharge for trips in snowstorms and gets more customers. But he noted that it takes drivers longer to get to destinations, costing them more gas. Drivers also get into more accidents, wiping out profits.

"It's an all-hands-on-deck time and a great sense of mission. That's what gets you through these days, because it's not true that you make a lot of money," Thistel said. "But you make friends, and hopefully those friends remember you."

Uber officials said they also see a jump in demand during storms, in part because some of its independent drivers opt not to work. That can trigger surge pricing, but customers using the app Thursday morning in Baltimore said they weren't seeing such price hikes.

Navin Dass, general manager for Yellow Cab in Baltimore, said the high demand began Wednesday and would likely last through Friday. He expects many Marylanders will continue to replace routines with contingency plans if the roads still aren't cleared or cars are buried in too much snow.

Meanwhile, public works and transportation officials in jurisdictions across the region Thursday urged people to stay home even as the agencies struggled to keep roads passable. Plow contractors said drivers appeared to heed the warnings.

"The past few storms, it seems that people are willing and daring enough to go out to work and whatever they're doing, but honestly today we haven't been getting those complaints," said Rick Farrell, president of Corporate Maintenance Group, a city plowing contractor with 29 trucks working secondary streets Thursday.

At BWI, with hundreds of flights delayed and canceled, travelers scrambled to make alternate plans or tried to wait out the weather.

Florence Shutsy Reynolds, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II, was hoping to get to Dallas for the International Women in Aviation Conference, where she planned to connect with fellow WASP members who flew training and domestic logistics missions during the war.

Reynolds and friend Lois Sibenik of Laurel arrived at BWI at 9 a.m. and hoped to land in Dallas by the afternoon, but they were bumped to a 5:15 p.m. flight.

"We'll be very familiar with this airport," said Sibenik, a private pilot.

"And they're going to be very familiar with us," Reynolds added.

At Penn Station, regular MARC riders and other travelers arrived in Baltimore on Amtrak trains ready to face the next, uncertain legs of their journeys.

Colin Spillane, an account manager at LovePop, a greeting-card company in Boston, arrived on Amtrak. His company is looking into opening a Baltimore location, he said.

Spillane hoped to fly out of BWI later in the day. But first, he planned to take an Uber ride from Penn Station to his Baltimore meeting.

krector@baltsun.com

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