City still looking for more bus drivers

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— Why doesn't anyone want to be a bus driver?

"I call this job 'gravy.' It's easy," said Dave Lewis, a full-time bus driver for the city's free bus system. "And these guys treat you right around here."

Although it had hoped to offer the residents of Steamboat Springs and visitors 20-minute service this winter, the city Transit Department, unable to find enough drivers to fill the time slots, had to schedule for 30-minute intervals.

City Transit Manager George Krawzoff recently raised the starting salary to $10.91 an hour for this winter to account for an increase in the cost of living in Steamboat Springs and to try to lure more people into the driver's seat.

The money the Transit Department received from the city for 2001 was enough to guarantee the city will be able to offer drivers another pay raise in January.

The Transit Department will offer its winter service with expanded routes and ski racks on the buses, starting Saturday, the same day as the opening of the ski season.

The department's 2001 budget, $1.8 million, could have sustained 20-minute service, Krawzoff said, but even though the city increased the starting salary, including monthly bonuses, it could not find the drivers it needed.

"Given the available resources, this is the best we can do right now," Krawzoff said.

With the expanded bus routes during the winter, the 35 drivers the department anticipates to be on its payroll for this winter will still not be enough to offer the 20-minute service it had hoped for. Despite the finalized schedule, however, the department is still looking for more drivers to offer as much peak service as possible.

Last year, the City Council decided to budget for service at 30-minute intervals at Krawzoff's insistence because he couldn't hire enough drivers to fill the extra time slots. The city did, however, provide overflow buses for peak hours. Nonetheless, people at bus stops were often bypassed because bus occupancy was stretched to its capacity.

Residents of Steamboat Springs have asked Krawzoff to expand the bus service to places such as Steamboat II and Downhill Drive, which he said he wishes he could provide. The resources, however, including personnel and budget, are just not available at the present time, he said.

"We're going to have to look at the community overall and examine our priorities," Krawzoff said.

The first step for Krawzoff in examining those priorities was to complete a draft of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Krawzoff began a presentation of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan to the City Council Nov. 7 with a John Lennon quote: "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." Krawzoff was remarking on the legions of plans and reports on the transit system conducted by the city in the past five years. This new plan is not meant to replace the others, which include the Steamboat Springs Mobility and Circulation Plan presented in June 1998 and the Whistler Area Transportation Study from 1996, he said. Instead, he hopes the plan will serve in part as a supplement to the previous work.

The plan addresses issues such as the traffic problem in Steamboat identified by community surveys and the need for expanded routes.

Krawzoff estimated additional routes would cost about $80,000 per route just for the winter season. And until the city finds a better funding source for the bus system, Krawzoff said, it cannot fund that level of service. Krawzoff pointed to other resort towns such as Aspen and Snowmass, whose bus systems have more diverse funding sources.

But if the city can't hire enough bus drivers, as a section of the plan called "Where are the Workers?" explains, it may not matter how much money it has.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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