Deadline for Australian bus drivers approaches

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— If they don't secure visas by Dec. 1, a group of 10 Australian bus drivers may lose their spots with the city's transit department, the city's transportation director said Wednesday.

In doing so, the city would probably be committing to offering 30-minute service for its free bus system this winter as opposed to the 20-minute service originally scheduled, said Transportation Director George Krawzoff.

The city decided to hire Australians after attempting unsuccessfully to hire enough people locally the past two years.

The city is currently paying the drivers' rents through a master lease program, which secured their rental housing using city money up front. The city had to guarantee that money to secure the housing, banking on the drivers to pay the rent each month.

Each month the drivers are not here the city loses $3,500 in rent. That money has been budgeted for the entire winter bus season if need be, but Krawzoff said he will attempt to get the city out of the lease if it does not end up going through with the program.

The 35 drivers now working will not be able to meet the demands for 20-minute service without significant help, Krawzoff said. Although more locals have shown interest in driving, they may not be enough, he said.

Visas for the workers have been delayed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Labor, Maria Porter said earlier this month.

Porter is the owner of Viable Resources, which contracted with the city to secure the visas. Porter also works for the Sheraton and Steamboat Resorts.

City officials were upset to hear service could be reduced.

"I think anything that jeopardizes service to our guests and visitors in Steamboat as well as service levels to our locals and people who are here working just complicates things and makes it more difficult," said City Council President Kathy Connell.

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