Fallout from bus service cuts continues in Steamboat Springs

Scott Franz
Steamboat Springs Transit passengers load and unload at the Gondola Transit Center in 2014.
Scott Franz

— Fallout from the recent cuts to the city’s bus system reached a new height Tuesday night and led some members of the Steamboat Springs City Council to label the negative impacts of the cuts a local emergency.

The declaration came after community members lined up to describe how they were left waiting in the cold for too long or forgoing the bus altogether because of the amount of time it takes to ride it now.

Council members sympathized with the concerns.

“I think we have a serious problem here in the community,” council member Kenny Reisman said after the council once again heard from a group of residents who have been negatively impacted by the cuts.

The reaction to the bus service cuts have been so strong in recent weeks, some council members are rethinking the service reductions and looking for future solutions.

“I don’t feel like I made the best decision on it,” Reisman said referring to the approval he and other council members gave to the bus cuts when the budget was adopted. “What I would love to know now is are there any solutions right now to solve what seems to be bad service?”

Council member Tony Connell shared Reisman’s sense of urgency.

“I don’t like the answer that there’s nothing we can do” to improve the service now, Connell told city staff. “This needs to be an emergency.”

City Manager Deb Hinsvark responded that the city is doing all it can to alleviate the problems.

“We are working to solve this issue,” she said.

She said the drivers and the transit service were “doing a marvelous job” given the tough situation they are in.

But she said without more drivers, the service levels can’t be increased this season.

The city will initiate another driver training session and continue recruiting this winter.

The city did reinstate two bus stops near the base of Steamboat Ski Area after residents complained their removal created a safety hazard.

However, Hinsvark said more drivers would be needed to alleviate delays across the city.

She told the council the city currently is three drivers short of what it needs to run even the current pared-down service, and that 50 to 60 percent of the bus lines were running behind schedule.

She added that had the city not scaled back its bus service, the city and local bus riders would be in a far worse situation than they are in today because a driver shortage would have impacted the expanded routes even more.

The council was open to putting the bus service on a future agenda to discuss possible solutions to the problem.

The city scaled back the service this year anticipating a bus driver shortage. The move also was made to save more than $100,000 in personnel and operating costs.

The bus issue was one of many big discussions the council had Tuesday night during a meeting that lasted nearly six hours.

The Steamboat Today will publish detailed stories on the other council highlights that occurred late in the evening.

Here’s a summary of the council’s other big decisions.

Council hits reverse on trash rules

• The council did an about-face on a proposed ordinance that would have required all city residents to use bear-proof trash containers outdoors.

After voting 6-1 last month to approve the first reading of the ordinance, the council voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to reject the same ordinance.

Sonja Macys was the only one to continue to express support for the full ordinance.

Several members expressed concern about the financial burden the proposed ordinance would place on local residents who would have to pay for the new containers.

The council decided instead to look at the ordinance piece by piece.

Council members expressed support for having the city convert its own trash containers to bear-resistant models and directed city staff to come back with more information about possible changes to the city’s commercial trash rules.

The council will discuss possible changes to residential rules at a later date.

Council unable to settle on police station site

• Just before 11 p.m., the city’s police station project hit a major speed bump when the council realized it would not be able to achieve a consensus on the two top building sites under consideration for the station.

Council members Scott Ford and Macys wanted to slow down the talks for a number of reasons while Reisman, Walter Magill and Scott Myller all said they preferred the site just south of the Hampton Inn on U.S. Highway 40.

However, it would take four votes from the council to move forward with any future ordinance to purchase a property for a police station.

Council President Bart Kounovsky and member Tony Connell had to step down from the talks because they both have conflicts of interest regarding the U.S. 40 site.

Several council members also appeared concerned the city has been paying Connell’s brother-in-law to vet the two remaining sites, including the one that Connell has invested in.

Hinsvark said she was assured Connell did not stand to gain anything financially from the sale of the property, and the purpose of his brother-in-law’s work for the city was to get unbiased information on both properties.

Minutes before the meeting adjourned, Magill said he felt the city was “back to 29 sites,” a reference to the total number it has looked into so far.

The council had the discussion on the remaining sites in public session after it failed to get enough votes to meet in a scheduled executive session.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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