COVID outbreaks put strain on Steamboat Springs Transit, but service levels now back to normal |

COVID outbreaks put strain on Steamboat Springs Transit, but service levels now back to normal

A Steamboat Springs Transit bus drives through downtown Steamboat. l Steamboat Springs Transit courtesy photo

After several Steamboat Springs Transit drivers caught COVID-19 recently, the operation had to adjust its routes around New Year’s celebrations and The MusicFest at Steamboat, two of the city’s busiest weeks of the year.

Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said about 25% of the city’s drivers had COVID at the same time, which put a strain on the ExpreSST line, night line and the extra service the city typically offers on New Year’s Eve, as many are out drinking and do not want to drive home.

Still, Flint said, the traditional routes were not impacted, though the drivers who weren’t out sick had to step up and work overtime.

“Our goal was to try and do the least impactful cut for the shortest amount of time, and I think we were successful in that,” Flint said. “The other staff members that were not out with COVID really stepped up and helped out to keep services as normal as possible.”

The operation is now back to normal service levels, though Flint said the city is still 10 to 15 drivers short of where he would like to be.

Since the beginning of winter season, the city has been running ExpreSST — a route directly from downtown to Steamboat Resort, and the Yellow Zone, a new on-call service running through the downtown area. Flint said both have been highly successful.

Steamboat has not mandated the vaccine for its city employees, and transit drivers are not required to be tested regularly. If a driver is showing symptoms, the city asks them to stay home and schedule a PCR test or take a rapid test, which are stocked at the transit office.

Flint said drivers who are showing symptoms are compensated at $20.13 an hour — the normal rate drivers are paid — for the shifts for which they were scheduled but missed while waiting for COVID results. Drivers who test positive are compensated for scheduled shifts they missed during their five days of isolation.

“We just do this on the honor system, and our drivers have been really good about being proactive,” Flint said. “If they do feel symptoms, then they’ve been really good about going out and getting a test.”

As drivers are in and out of COVID isolation, the Transportation Security Administration recently extended its rule requiring masks be worn at all times on buses, airplanes, trains and other public transit, no matter how short the ride.

Tyler Kern, transit operations supervisor, said the vast majority of riders have been cooperative in wearing a mask, though enforcing the rules can be exhausting for the drivers.

“I know drivers continue to face that challenge of having to enforce mask rules on buses, and it’s tiring on them,” Kern said. “It’s an added challenge to an already tough job, but it seems like a majority of our passengers comply with the rule.”

Drivers keep a stash of masks in their buses, and City Manager Gary Suiter said drivers hand out 3,000 to 4,000 masks each week. Masks are free to bus passengers, but the city spends 25 cents apiece on each mask, so drivers encourage passengers to hold onto their masks.

Flint said one of the most difficult parts of enforcing the rules for drivers is that the mask mandate is not up to the city.

“It’s not the drivers’ choice,” Flint said. “They have to enforce the mandate, and I think they’ve done an outstanding job, but it is an additional layer added onto an already challenging job.”

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