Steamboat Transit raises pay, benefits for drivers in face of shortage

Facing a severe shortage of bus drivers, Steamboat Springs Transit has increased pay and benefits for its drivers, the city announced this week.

The city will raise pay for drivers from $19 per hour to $20.13 per hour. That’s after drivers complete training, during which they’re paid $12.32 per hour. Drivers will also have access to a ski pass from Steamboat Resort and will only pay $600 per month in housing, after the city agreed to subsidize the first $500 of a driver’s room.

Still, Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said his department needs to hire 16 more drivers.

“Most of these people are coming from more rural areas and when they’re told the rent in Steamboat, they’re shocked,” said Tyler Kerns, Steamboat Springs Transit operations supervisor. “For people that aren’t from here, that’s a huge expense for them to look at.”

The city normally rents out rooms at Flour Mill Apartments for drivers, and Flint said that tradition will likely continue for the 2021-22 winter season, though details are still being finalized.

Drivers working in the winter are only there for the season, but drivers working in the summer usually go on to become full-time, year-round employees.

“That’s a really great thing because it’s great to have new drivers, but our full-timers and returning seasonals are great to have because they’ve already done this before and have made it through a winter season,” Flint said, adding that several of the city’s previous seasonal drivers have also expressed interest in returning.

While public and private sectors across the country are having difficulty hiring, Flint said Steamboat’s issue may be unique due to the city’s cost of living, the job’s difficulty and a lack of seasonal employees working summer jobs in places like Alaska, Montana and Maine, where the city recruits many of its winter drivers.

Flint said many prospective drivers have expressed concerns over working so closely with the public, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Routt County. While the federal government has mandated masks on all forms of public transit, Flint said drivers are often left trying to enforce such rules with passengers, who can be dismissive, rude or even aggressive with drivers when asked to wear a mask.

“I try and be as friendly as possible, but I let them know that this is the bus, and I’m driving, and these are the rules,” said Bob Printy, a driver who has been with Steamboat Transit on and off since 1994. “Usually, if I treat people with respect, then they respect me.”

While most passengers are respectful of the rules, Alicia Woods, another transit driver, said those who are not make the job much harder for drivers, who have no choice but to enforce the federal mask rule.

“There were a few times where I had to turn people away that were crying and telling me that they’re about to lose their job because they can’t get on the bus, and they’re going to be late to work,” said Woods, who has been on the job for about 1 1/2 years. “It’s really hard to look someone in the eye and say ‘no’ when they’re begging to get a ride.”

Flint said another issue with finding potential drivers is the skill level it requires — driving a giant metal machine through icy roads, often with dozens of passengers on board, who are all in a hurry and talking with those around them.

“It takes a special person to want to take that on,” Flint said. “It is a tough job with a lot of responsibility.”

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