Passengers pack city buses
Public transportation long on riders, short on drivers
Steamboat Springs — Despite a shortage in bus drivers, Steamboat Springs Transit was able to operate at peak levels New Year’s weekend, two event nights in a row.
Transit bus drivers carried 9,385 passengers Dec. 30, the night of the Olympic send-off. And 9,448 people rode buses on New Year’s Eve into early New Year’s Day. The average per-day passenger count in February 2004 was 5,045 people.
The transit service doesn’t have enough drivers to operate at the desired level for regular service, officials said, but the weekend’s extra service was possible because drivers were willing to work overtime.
“Our very generous drivers basically gave up their weekends,” said Jonathan Flint, Steamboat Springs Transit operations manager. “They were very generous to come in on a holiday.”
The events wrapped up a successful year for Steamboat Springs Transit, said George Krawzoff, the city’s director of transit and transportation services.
Passenger counts have been up since August, with double-digit percentage increases every month compared to the same months in 2004. About 891,000 passengers rode the city bus routes in 2005, a nearly 5 percent increase from last year. Ridership on regional service, which runs between Craig and Steamboat, also increased 11 percent in 2005.
Krawzoff credits the increases to the cost of gas this fall.
“People began to be more sensitive about driving their cars,” Krawzoff said. “We saw better patronage on the buses.”
That’s a good thing, he said.
“We’re very pleased that people are using the service,” Krawzoff said.
However, he said, transit officials are not offering the level of winter service that they would like because of a lack of drivers. The proposed winter schedule would have buses leaving stops every 20 minutes; at this time they are only coming every 30 minutes.
“That’s a long time to wait in the cold,” Krawzoff said.
He said drivers are earning overtime just to maintain the 30-minute service. To move to 20 minutes, about five or six more drivers are needed.
Krawzoff said the lack of drivers is a communitywide issue. Steamboat’s drivers are well paid, he said, but recruitment efforts would probably be easier if there were more affordable housing available for workers.
Also, Krawzoff said, being a bus driver means meeting specific requirements.
“We demand a lot from our drivers,” he said, including training and the ability to pass pre-employment, random and reasonable-suspicion drug tests. “There’s no fooling around. We have to have serious people that understand the gravity of the job that we’re doing.”
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Work to form a new strategic plan for the Steamboat Springs School District will start next week with the first sessions of a listening tour aimed at getting broad community feedback.