‘Hopefully next year’: City Council declines extending hours of night buses | SteamboatToday.com

‘Hopefully next year’: City Council declines extending hours of night buses

A city bus, with a message welcoming visitors to Ski Town USA, makes its way down Lincoln Avenue from the mountains to downtown.
John F. Russell

After requests to extend hours for the city’s night line bus schedule this winter, Steamboat Springs City Council asked the transit department to present options to make it possible.

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, council listened to three strategies that each required diverting service away from other routes, but ultimately directed city staff to keep the bus schedule as is. 

“I would like nothing better than to have discovered a solution to this here tonight, but we didn’t,” said council member Joella West.

In the report provided by the transit department, city staff agreed there was a need to run nighttime buses until 3:40 a.m., as opposed to midnight, but after some consideration, they recommended against it this year. 

The first option provided would have eliminated parts or all of the Orange Line or Purple Line, which service the resort’s employee housing and the hospital. The second option was eliminating parts or all of ExpreSST, which takes passengers directly from downtown to the mountain. 

A third option was to provide 30-minute service on the Red and Green lines during the middle of the day, meaning the 15-minute service intervals offered on the city’s main route would only be offered during the peak hours of the morning and afternoon.

Steamboat Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said each of those options would risk creating capacity issues in some form. Scheduling overtime was also not recommended by city staff. 

“An ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach is best reserved for holidays, emergencies or making it through the end of the season, not for general operations,” reads the recommendation given to council. 

Contracting with micro-transit was also discouraged, as city staff felt the limited capacity of vans and shuttles wouldn’t be adequate. 

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Flint told council members that returning to the city’s previous service levels would require an additional $1.5 million per year, but extending hours of service, specifically, was more of a staffing issue.

Perhaps the biggest concern by the transit department was the effect extended hours would have on the bus drivers, many of whom were hired over the summer and weren’t told they could be driving for several hours past midnight. Meanwhile, the drivers who did work over the summer did so while short-staffed. 

“Many staff members have outside commitments, and it is anticipated that some may leave if scheduling changes are made,” staff’s communication to council reads.

Staffing shortages have affected transit departments nationwide, and the city’s ability to reach a full staff this winter was described as a “herculean task” by Flint. 

“Why would we poke the bear and risk our 100% staffing, which is phenomenal, and the incredibly hard work that was done to get that?” Council Member Heather Sloop asked her peers. 

But members of the community remained concerned the lack of public transit past midnight could have disastrous consequences. 

“There’s a lot of people that couldn’t and shouldn’t be walking out and about inebriated in the snow,” said local resident Joe Mansfield during public comments.

He also said that many of the people who work in restaurants and bars downtown would benefit from later bus service. 

City Council asked Flint if there’s a possibility for forming partnerships with private transportation companies to help people get home late at night, but he replied saying the city shouldn’t be too optimistic about that approach, as companies like Uber and Lyft aren’t reliable one night to the next and taxi services have shifted their business models toward airport runs. 

On that same Tuesday, just hours before council’s discussion, Steamboat Express (formerly Go Alpine) announced it was suspending its local taxi service in Steamboat Springs. 

“Hopefully, next year by next May, we can find a solution for this,” said Council Member Ed Briones. “Back to old school.”

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