Transit lacks funds, drivers

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— Extending bus service in Steamboat to highly requested areas such as Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat II, Heritage Park and areas north of Mount Werner Road could cost more than $250,000 annually, transit officials said Wednesday.

At a public hearing in Centennial Hall, Director of Transportation Services George Krawzoff and transit operations manager Jonathan Flint talked about transit issues with seven residents who attended the meeting.

All the issues dealt with money or with a shortage of bus drivers for the approaching winter.

"We're fighting a losing battle with funding," Krawzoff said. "Until the community is ready to support a consistent funding mechanism for transit, we'll just be able to maintain the status quo."

Operating a bus costs about $52 an hour, Krawzoff said. With about 16 hours of service a day needed for a new route, the expense adds up quickly.

And although Krawzoff and Flint praised the Steamboat Springs City Council for its support, they said there is no room for additional costs in the $2.2 million transit budget.

Steamboat resident Rosemary Post brought up a possible source of funds.

"Why don't you start charging people again to ride the bus?" she asked, referring to a time she remembered "years ago" when Steamboat buses weren't free.

Krawzoff said charging passengers is an option but not one that Steamboat Springs Transit is considering at this time.

Passengers fumbling for correct change "has a bigger impact than you might imagine" on slowing down buses, he said. And like most ski resort towns in Colorado, it is important for Steamboat to keep buses free, Krawzoff said.

"The city wants to help the resort community do business," Krawzoff said.

Flint said the current pre-peak bus schedule, which includes bus service every half-hour on main routes, will change to 20-minute service if more drivers are hired.

If that change occurs, Flint said, on-call bus service with the yellow line in areas such as Howelsen Hill and Fairview will be stopped to allow for increased service on main routes. The yellow line accounts for about 2 percent of transit passengers, he said.

Steamboat Springs Transit has hired 26 seasonal drivers, Flint said, but 38 are needed to operate at peak winter levels. Five potential drivers will start a class Monday.

Krawzoff said many potential drivers are looking to other resorts -- such as Aspen -- that are able to pay more, offer affordable housing, and give free ski passes to drivers.

There also is competition nearby.

"With the energy industry kicking up in Craig, we're now competing for drivers with the gas lines," Krawzoff said.

When three residents asked about extending bus service to Tamarack Drive, Krawzoff told them to submit a petition to City Council members along with a possible route.

He also had another suggestion.

"If you know anybody that might like to drive a bus, send them to me," Krawzoff said. "That will help your cause, too."

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