City of Steamboat Springs ‘scrambling’ to improve bus system
Reporter Scott Franz spent much of Friday riding the city's bus system and talking to riders. Look for a column about his experiences next week in the Steamboat Today.
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs is scrambling to fix a bus system that is leaving some riders angry, frustrated and waiting out in the cold.
As criticism over the pared down winter service continues to mount, the city is pursuing a number of options that could make riding local buses more reliable and convenient in the coming days.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson said the efforts include securing smaller vans or shuttles with additional drivers to provide prompter service on the west end of town, hosting another driver training session and possibly shifting the responsibility of cleaning the buses away from drivers to a contracted service.
The latter move could add four hours of driving time per day, Anderson said.
This week, Anderson and city staff have been reaching out to local shuttle providers Storm Mountain Express and Go Alpine to pursue the potential vehicle and driver partnerships.
The city also has made calls to transportation providers on the Front Range about leasing the smaller vehicles that could be deployed on routes that are falling behind.
The vehicles must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act by having such things as wheelchair ramps.
And because they have fewer seats, the vans and shuttles could be driven by drivers who don’t have commercial driver’s licenses.
That means it wouldn’t be as difficult to recruit the drivers and they could be trained and put into the rotation more quickly, Anderson said.
The city pared down the winter daytime schedule this year anticipating a shortage of drivers.
Training a new driver and getting them a CDL takes at least a month, Anderson said.
The city’s efforts to improve the system come as community members continue to report delayed buses, inconsistent schedules and some unreliable service in general.
Steamboat Springs City Council member Scott Ford recently accepted a citizen’s challenge to ride the bus more often and witness the effects of the city’s recent cuts to the service.
On Thursday night, he experienced some of the bus system’s headaches.
Ford said he was trying to head home from the grocery store on the new Cinnamon Line when the bus driver informed the riders at Seventh Street stop downtown that his bus was turning into an Aqua Line and going on another route.
Ford and a few passengers got off the bus and learned through a smartphone app that the next Cinnamon Line wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another 53 minutes.
Ford said one rider, a man in his 20s, cursed and left, while another, a woman with a toddler, grew emotional on the phone telling someone about the delay.
Ford himself walked home instead of waiting for the next Cinnamon Line to arrive.
“It has given me the impression we are hurting people,” Ford said Friday about his recent bus ride. “This is a critical piece of infrastructure for a number of our citizens, and we are jamming them. They had a system they could reasonably count on, and now I don’t know they can.”
Ford said he expects there are many other stories like his occurring across the city as buses run late and riders deal with new bus to bus transfers.
He has treated his rides as a sort of “mobile town hall.”
“There’s no magic wand to fix this thing,” Ford said. “But we need to make sure as a city council and city management we’re exploring everything we can reasonably do to improve it.”
Local bus riders interviewed by the Steamboat Today on Friday morning and afternoon had a variety of opinions about the new winter service.
Hayden resident and Aqua Line rider Jeff Cunningham said the changes and new transfers “haven’t been that big of a deal.”
“I still get there,” he said.
A family visiting from Atlanta that rode the bus from City Market back to their condo also said they found the bus system easy and helpful.
But a trio of riders who depend on the bus every day to get from the west end of town to the downtown and Central Park Plaza had a much different view of the schedule.
They used words like “awful” and “terrible” to describe their experience on the new bus routes on their end of town that run less often than they did last year.
“It’s putting a lot of stress on the drivers,” Dustin Jackson said.
Several other riders also are reporting via social media that they are experiencing delays and giving up on riding the bus altogether.
Anderson said he and Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint have been “fast and furious” on the phone in recent days while they seek solutions to the bus service hiccups.
Steamboat Springs Transit currently is three drivers short of being able to run its pared down service at an optimal level.
Supervisors and other employees who wouldn’t normally be driving routes now are getting behind the wheel to help out, as well.
To further help recruit drivers, the city will pay drivers $15.78 per hour during training instead of the previous $10.17 per hour.
“We’re scrambling,” Anderson said noting his own daughter was reporting delays on the bus system. “We’re trying to see what we can do now with our local resources. (The feedback from riders) definitely shows we have a community that relies on the bus system.”
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