Staffing shortage leads Steamboat Springs Transit to cut late-night service, add free on-demand service downtown

New driver's train at the Steamboat Springs Transit Center.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Plagued by a driver shortage, Steamboat Springs Transit has shifted its operations to ensure riders can still get where they need to go while the city runs on a thin staff.

Most notably, the city has replaced the former Yellow Line with a new service called the Yellow Zone, a free, on-demand ride service that passengers can access by downloading the Yellow Zone app and requesting on-demand rides within the service area from 7 a.m. to 6:20 p.m. daily.

The service area includes downtown Steamboat and many of the surrounding neighborhoods, but those wanting to reach other areas of the city will need to transfer at another stop downtown.

“It should be even easier for people to use than the Yellow Line,” said Transit Manager Jonathan Flint. “It’s kind of like a free Uber but only in the downtown area.”

Facing a lack of drivers to operate the line, transit has also cut its late-night service, and buses will run only until midnight.

“For the community, the effect is going to be no late-night bus,” said Tyler Kerns, Steamboat Springs Transit operations supervisor. “If you want to hang out in the bar after midnight, you can’t rely on the bus to get home.”

The city has also introduced the ExpreSST Line, which will run from downtown to the mountain area. The new route provides express morning service from 8-11:32 a.m. and afternoon service from 1:20-6:32 p.m.

ExpreSST will run every 20 minutes from Stockbridge to the Gondola Transit Center, stopping at each stop along the way. Flint said the downtown and resort stops are the most-used areas for the bus, which is why the city opted to put the express line in those areas.

“We think this is a really great opportunity for people that live out west to go to Stockbridge, park at the parking there and catch this bus up to the mountain, as opposed to having to drive through town and catching a shuttle bus at the Meadows Lot,” Flint said. “For people that live in the downtown area, they can either walk down to the stop or utilize the Yellow Zone to get down there.”

The Main Line, one continuous loop between West Steamboat, downtown, the resort and the housing around Walton Creek Road, will provide 30-minute continuous service from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 6-11:30 p.m.

While the Express Line and new app service will benefit the community, Flint said they are a result of a less-than-ideal situation: a major shortage in drivers and an inability to recruit staff for the winter season, which Steamboat Springs Transit has dealt with since COVID-19 hit Routt County in 2020.

“We wanted to utilize our resources kind of in the best way that we could to try and optimize our services without the drivers we normally have,” Flint said. “Still, I think this new service is going to be very popular.”

Before COVID-19, the city operated with 24 drivers, which Flint and City Council hoped to return to this season. After months of recruiting, transit is beginning the season with 14.

“We kind of accepted that we may never get to that 24, which is why we reduced the winter service,” Kerns said. “We are technically fully staffed now, but it’s because we cut service.”

While the city could continue its efforts to recruit and hire, Kerns said the driver training dates are set months in advance, and rescheduling those dates are difficult, particularly as transit heads into its busiest season. Most drivers also come to Routt County from other parts of the country, which puts the city in a time crunch to move prospective drivers to town as winter sports season has already started.

“Most of these people come from elsewhere in the U.S., and they have to have time to interview and be hired and work on moving here, so it’s all kind of time sensitive and makes a unique challenge for hiring,” Kerns said.

Throughout most of the day, transit will again pair the Red Line — which runs through West Steamboat, downtown, grocery stores and the Gondola Transit Center — with the Green Line — which runs through the condos surrounding Walton Creek Road. That service will run roughly between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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