Changes being made to Steamboat Transit amid hiring challenges
Facing severe challenges in hiring drivers, Steamboat Springs Transit Director Jonathan Flint discussed a series of changes being made this winter to the local transit system’s operation.
Most notably, the city will be contracting with Downtowner, a private company currently used in Aspen, to run its yellow line, which is an on-call service, Flint said.
The change is a one-year experiment, according to Flint, who said passengers are unlikely to notice any difference, as the small SUVs used by Downtowner will be marked with the Steamboat Springs Transit logo, and the service will still be free. The city has agreed to pay $355,000 for the service to run seven days per week from Dec. 1 to the end of November 2022. The cost is about the same as what the city paid to run the yellow line, Flint said.
“Rather than us trying to spend the money to do this over a long term, we can contract it, see if it’s successful, continue it if it’s successful and end it if it’s not as successful,” Flint said.
Flint said the city made its decision because of its focuses on larger transit operations rather than smaller, on-call shuttle services and because of the ongoing struggle to hire drivers.
The transit service lost multiple qualified applicants or committed drivers to other cities and the private sector, both of which pay better, Flint said.
Using Steamboat’s list of comparable cities — which includes ski resort towns across the West — Steamboat pays less than most, with Breckenridge at $20.05 to $20.65 per hour, Vail at $23.50 per hour and Jackson, Wyoming, at $22 per hour. Steamboat currently pays $20.13 per hour, with $12.32 per hour for training. Until 2021, the city paid $19 per hour, but city staff agreed to raise the pay in hopes of recruiting more drivers.
“We are on the low end of that but still in range,” Flint said.
Flint and Wendy Ecklund, the city’s human resources and risk manager, said the city is also losing many of its employees to private businesses, which also often pay higher salaries.
Still, Flint said the salary increase from $19 to $20.13 encouraged three previous drivers to reapply for the position.
“Right now, all transit systems have a shortage of drivers, so it’s a national issue,” Flint said. “A lot of places just haven’t been able to recruit.”
The city has also been able to secure more housing units for its drivers, which Flint said he hopes will address what he believes to be one of the biggest barriers to hiring in addition to wages.
The city contracts with Ski Town Commercial, a property company that owns multiple rental properties within the city. Flint said plans are to house its drivers at Flour Mill Apartments, though they expect to find more rooms within Ski Town Commercial as more drivers arrive in town.
Rather than signing yearlong contracts, the city currently only rents apartments in the winter season, which is when most transit drivers are needed, though that could change.
“Something we may be looking at in the future is where we have housing for our drivers in the winter, and then then maybe it’s something we use for parks and recreation in the summer season,” Flint said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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