Faces of the Frontlines: Making sure the wheels on the bus keep going round
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Robert Dippold understands the importance of public transportation in Steamboat Springs, and he sees it every day as a driver for the Steamboat Springs Transit system.
“I love it,” said Dippold, who started as a seasonal bus driver in the winter and was recently hired on full time. “I love driving, and I love public service.”
Dippold is just one of the Steamboat Springs Transit drivers who have continued to provide service through the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of Steamboat employs 21 year-round divers and close to 50 in the winter months when service is expanded.
“My colleagues and I are proud of the fact that we’re public servants,” Dippold said. “This is not something we thought we’d be dealing with when we signed up to drive a bus. But, I think most of us are really proud that we get an opportunity to serve our community in the way we’re able to serve it right now.”
After a career in marketing and product development, Dippold was excited to take on a new role as bus driver.
“When I saw this job, the idea of being an ambassador for Steamboat sounded pretty good,” said Dippold, who visited Steamboat with his family before moving here. “I knew how important it was when we had a good server or if we had a good bus driver or something like that. Those are the people who can really make your experience so much better.”
But as the pandemic started taking a toll, he realized he was serving many of the people who would be hardest hit. Even as the visitors left and ridership fell, essential workers, like those working at local grocery stores, still relied on public transportation to get to and from work each day.
“We provide a much-needed service for people who have to get around and may not have a car,” Dippold said.
A series of profiles of the people who serve on the frontlines in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dippold is grateful to the city and Transit Director Jonathan Flint for recognizing the challenges of COVID-19 early and making necessary changes. These included stepping up efforts to disinfect the bus, maintaining routes to reduce the number of people on the bus and taping off selected areas, so that passengers could maintain social distancing.
“We tried to make changes to protect our drivers and the people who use our buses to get to doctors’ appointments, to go to work and to get to the grocery store,” Flint said. “Our drivers are a key to us keeping things running smoothly, and we could not do this without them.”
The city requires drivers to wear face masks and encourages riders to do the same. And the front door of the bus is only used for wheelchairs because that is where the lift is.
“I’ve never been with a group of people that are as dedicated and as professional as the city employees in this place and that goes all the way to the City Council,” Dippold said. “We know that we’re very fortunate to have a job. My boss is the taxpayer, and there’s a lot of taxpayers that don’t have jobs right now, so I’m grateful and humbled.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Sheila Symons’ son got COVID-19 around Labor Day. He has since missed about five weeks of school, spent five days at Children’s Hospital in Aurora and has seen more doctors than an 11-year-old child should.