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City brings aboard Australian drivers

Avi Salzman

— Unable to hire locally for the past few years, the city of Steamboat Springs decided to go to Australia to find bus drivers for this winter.

Tonight, the City Council will vote on whether to sign a lease agreement with a lodging company part-owned by Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell to house the Aussies.

The city will not be footing the bill for the master leases with Colorado Resort Services, but will sublease them to Australian drivers the city has already agreed to hire.

The lodging company, in which Connell has an ownership stake, won a bidding process between three lodging companies for the contract on the leases.

Connell said she purposely had nothing to do with setting up the contract, leaving this contract to other members of the company.

The 10 Australians will pay $365 per month for units in the Rockies Condominiums and will share bedrooms if the lease contract is passed tonight by ordinance and then ratified by a second reading at a future meeting.

If, however, the drivers who have signed up do not end up coming to Steamboat Springs or decide not to work for the transit department before the ski season begins, the city will be responsible for paying the cost of the leases.

George Krawzoff, the director of the city’s transportation division, said the foreign workers, in addition to a higher number of locals who want to drive, will allow the city to offer 20-minute service this year, as opposed to the 30-minute intervals last year.

The city will also be able to offer a third regional bus from Craig and Hayden to Steamboat in the winter.

The department anticipates seeing 45 drivers on the staff this winter, as opposed to the approximately 35 who have signed on in the past two years.

Although the city has budgeted for more drivers, it has not been able to hire enough people to fill the necessary time slots even after upping salaries in past winters.

The new program may change that.

“This is really what we needed to be able to offer 20-minute service and a third regional bus,” Krawzoff said.

Krawzoff said he is not worried about the prospect of the Australian drivers opting out at the last minute and causing the city to pick up the tab.

He said that although there is no written contract between the workers and the city, the groups had a “transcontinental handshake” to seal the deal.

In addition, the workers will have to pay their own way to and from America and they would lose the investment on their plane tickets if they were to leave.

If they leave for another local job, the drivers will lose their options on the leases.

The city paid two Australian companies that have worked with the Vail area transit service on similar deals about $5,000 to find experienced workers and secure visas, Krawzoff said.


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