On the agenda, Steamboat Springs to review extending bus routes’ hours later into night

Amid staffing shortages, Steamboat’s public buses haven’t run past midnight all year. 

But on Dec. 6, the city’s transit department will offer City Council several strategies that could extend the public bus line’s service hours later into the night. 

During the last City Council meeting on Nov. 15, one of the owners of Schmiggety’s Live Music and Dance Bar, Kim Haggarty, asked council during public comments to find a way to extend hours for the city’s bus routes. 

“Last year was so difficult for us,” Haggarty said. “I can’t tell you the amount of tourists that we had to send out at 1:45 in the morning and 10-below-zero and tell them they had to walk home to the mountain. That’s a 45 to 50 minute walk. It was heartbreaking.”

Haggarty also implored council members to think about the people who work late at night and to consider that getting people home from the bars is a matter of public safety. 

“Isn’t drinking and driving one of our biggest issues in Steamboat Springs?” Haggarty asked. “It is. Now we’re encouraging that because now people have to drive home because they don’t want to walk home at 10-below in the morning.”

The nationwide shortage of bus drivers is well documented, and whether it’s schools or city transit departments, hiring and training new drivers has been a significant problem. But the Steamboat Springs Transit Department is fully staffed with 37 drivers after a “herculean task,” as described by Transit Manager Jonathan Flint. 

“Almost all of our new applicants needed housing,” Flint said.

Flint and his staff aggressively recruited drivers from all over the country, especially in areas with a lot of seasonal workers such as Alaska and Yellowstone National Park. 

Flint has said a full staff could mean reducing pickups to a 15-minute interval for the main bus route. With that in mind, extending the hours might seem ambitious, but Flint said he’s been preparing different strategies to keep the buses going past midnight. 

“My goal is to give (City Council) different options,” Flint said. 

Because he’s still working out the details, he didn’t provide specific details about what he’ll present to council, but he did say he’ll likely ask council to examine reductions in service in other areas to expand late-night service. 

According to Flint, ridership is up, and the average ridership for the city’s buses is 42 passengers per hour, while the national average is 29. 

“We’re already operating pretty close to our capacity,” Flint said.

He also doesn’t want to just have one late night bus, saying that the full loop takes about an hour and a half and having multiple buses would lessen the intervals between pickups. 

Flint said he expects to have a “robust conversation” on Dec. 6. He said his staff does want to add a later-running line, and he feels there’s no disagreement among city staff that later service would benefit the community. 

“We’re in the business of moving people,” Flint said. 

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