City officials' efforts to expand bus service are hitting a glitch: a need for drivers.
The lack of drivers has affected the city's ability to provide a full range of service and also is limiting the city's ability to gain funding for expanded routes.
Training for winter drivers starts in about a week, but the city has received only five applications for 20 positions, said George Krawzoff, the city's director of transportation services.
He said affordable housing seems to increasingly affect the city's ability to recruit drivers. Other ski areas have addressed this need, he said.
"I would love to have some dedicated housing to provide for seasonal drivers as others do," he said.
The city's struggle may be in part related to its high standards, Krawzoff said. Drivers may have licenses, but if their records show too many incidents, they may not get hired. Also, federal regulations require pre-employment and random drug screening.
"We maintain high standards, and yet we're also asking them to drive unusual shifts," Krawzoff said. "They need to be willing to drive in the evenings."
During the past couple of winter seasons, the lack of drivers has affected the city's ability to provide full service. The city usually runs an extra bus to deal with overflow from the regular busses, but that bus has not run recently. The extra bus prevents people from having to wait another 20 minutes for the next bus.
"People get discouraged when they are on an extremely full bus. They start looking for alternatives, or they start driving," Krawzoff said.
Krawzoff thinks the change in service resulted in a decline in the local bus route's passenger count. Last year, about 917,000 people rode the bus, a decrease from the 1998 and 2000 peak years of more than 1 million riders.
Because of the rise in gas prices, Krawzoff said, now is a good time to encourage people to ride the bus. The demand has increased: Last month, 7 percent more people rode the bus than in Sept. 2004.
Krawzoff said people are asking for expanded service to the hospital, Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat II and the north side of Mount Werner Road. Transportation officials are interested in meeting these demands, Krawzoff said, but they can't if there are not enough drivers.
During the City Council budget retreat this week, council members denied transportation officials' request for $45,000 to expand bus service. Members showed interest in providing the funding, but they said it would not be worthwhile if there were not enough drivers on staff.
Krawzoff said the $45,000 would have provided about eight hours of service for the core winter season, which is about 110 days. But adding routes isn't easy if there's no one to drive the bus, he said.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible transit service. We can't do that without drivers."
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