After struggling to hire, Steamboat Springs Transit welcomes winter season drivers
Shane Gassaway never envisioned himself trading in his stack of thick philosophy textbooks in New Orleans for a bright green and orange vest in Steamboat Springs.
But two years after his decision to leave his job as a philosophy professor at Tulane University and work as the dispatch/transit supervisor with Steamboat Springs Transit, Gassaway is thrilled with the choice he made.
“My passion was for philosophy,” Gassaway said. “It wasn’t about being an academic; it was about learning what it means to be a teacher in a university, and there was a lot of disillusionment.”
Gassaway, who grew up in Boulder, had a brother working for the local transit service who convinced him to apply for a job as a safety, training and recruitment specialist with the organization. While Gassaway was not offered that job, he did receive a position as a transit supervisor and has risen through the ranks since.
“You can continue to pursue philosophy in any walk of life,” Gassaway said, “including as a bus driver.”
Though he no longer lectures about Plato and Aristotle, Gassaway got to brush up on his teaching skills Thursday as seven new bus drivers from around the world — with only one from Colorado — sat behind the wheel of a bus for the first time.
For Sergio Lopez, the experience was nerve-wracking yet exciting. His hands shook as Gassaway walked him through the steps to turn on the bus: Press a key on the left side of the driver’s seat to put it in drive, push a red lever next to the seat to raise it up or down, adjust the mirrors to ensure you can see on all sides and, finally, push the gas pedal.
“Imagine doing this in a blizzard,” another trainee joked.
After completing all of the preparation to drive, Lopez navigated the bus around the perimeter of the Steamboat Springs Transit center, through a series of cones spread out about the width of Lincoln Avenue. By the end, Gomez was thrilled he successfully completed the course without knocking over a cone or crashing into a building.
Lopez, who is from Mexico, moved to Steamboat in 2018, after his parents moved a few years prior and convinced him to join them.
He spent his first year in town working as a landscaper and his next stocking shelves at Safeway. Lopez said he had few experiences to practice English at his prior jobs, which is why he pursued a job where he would have more interaction with the public.
“It was a little hard in the beginning because Mexico is super hot, and it’s really different, so I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it, but I gave it a try, and it went pretty good,” Lopez said of his first two years in town.
Though the language barrier has been difficult at times, Lopez said all residents he has interacted with have been patient and understanding.
“I’ve never run into someone who doesn’t help me to understand what they mean, because they understand that I’m not from here,” Lopez said. “They always help you, and I love that.”
Other drivers training Thursday said they were attracted to Steamboat because of its outdoor access and to the job because of its four-day work week, housing inclusion and free ski pass.
“I’ve had friends who came out to work in Colorado before, so I’d heard about it, and I wanted to really check it out,” said Logan Gray, who is from South Carolina and works as a river guide in the summer. “I was just really looking for something new. I ride public transit all the time so why not try working for it.”
Though drivers seemed eager to move to town and work in the field, Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said the department has struggled this year more than ever to hire drivers.
Flint attributed the hiring issue to several factors: a rising cost of living in Steamboat, reluctance about public interaction during a pandemic and normal channels for hiring, such as national parks who staff those with similar interests in the summer, not following normal hiring practices due to COVID-19.
To combat some of those issues, the city has offered housing for its drivers at Flour Mill Apartments and raised pay from $19 per hour to $20.13 per hour.
Still, Flint recognized that it’s not a glamorous job and is often difficult.
“It takes a special person to want to take that on,” Flint said. “It is a tough job with a lot of responsibility.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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“What prompted four individuals to leave a comfortable lifestyle to journey into the wild West and endanger themselves to take photographs?”