Steamboat Springs City staff shortages that will force a reduction in bus service this winter are being felt in other city departments as well.
In addition to the transportation department's shortage of 13 bus drivers, Steamboat Springs' public works department has yet to fill four snowplow driver positions. City Manager Alan Lanning called the snowplow positions "critical."
"Maybe I'll learn how to go out and drive a snowplow," he joked Wednesday.
Lanning noted that there are recruiting difficulties citywide and said that many efforts to cure the problem - such as packaging winter seasonal positions with summer ones - have been unsuccessful.
"We're going to leave no stone unturned here to make this work," Lanning said.
Lanning said a shortage of snowplow drivers will not leave Steamboat residents snowed in this winter.
"We will plow all the streets," he said. "We're working hard to make sure we don't decrease any service levels."
Public Works Director Jim Weber reiterated that streets won't be cut from snowplow service. If need be, he said, current city drivers will work overtime to provide snowplow service. Snowplow operators make $18.20 an hour.
"If we're not fully staffed, they will be putting in longer hours," Weber said. In a statement contradictory to Lanning's, Weber acknowledged that while all city streets will be plowed, frequency of service could take a hit.
Unlike public works, the city's transportation department can't cure a staff shortage by having drivers work overtime.
"If there's not a body to run the bus, that route is cut," Transportation Director George Krawzoff said. "This will continue until we're able to add staff."
Krawzoff has finalized his plan for curtailing winter bus service in light of the driver shortage. Winter service will begin Nov. 25, one week later than normal. Three traditional winter routes will be cut on that date. Those routes include the yellow line, to Old Town and Colorado Mountain College; the Hilltop Connector line; and the purple line, to The Rockies Condominiums and Yampa Valley Medical Center. Service and frequency will be maintained on downtown and mountain area routes.
Krawzoff said the strategy is to maintain frequency on the most heavily used routes, which is more efficient than spreading the cuts out across many routes. Krawzoff noted that it costs the city about $1.25 a passenger to run its free bus service on the main lines, while it costs about $8 a passenger - due to less use - on the routes that are being cut.
Last winter, 11,599 people rode the yellow line while 341,535 people rode the red/green line, which runs from west Steamboat through downtown to the mountain area.
"I know we run the danger of appearing to run the service for tourists instead of locals, but that's not the intention," Krawzoff said. "There's a big efficiency difference."
CMC administrators are concerned about their service being nixed.
"It will have an impact," Campus Dean Kerry Hart said. "But we understand the position the city is in, and we're just going to have to work around it."
Hart said parents of CMC students have appreciated that their children can get downtown and to Steamboat Ski Area without the need for an automobile on campus. He also noted that many CMC students have jobs.
"A number of our students work in the community, so it's also going to have an impact on local businesses," Hart said.
Krawzoff said the nearest bus stop to CMC will be at Lincoln Avenue and 11th Street.
"It's a walk," he said.
Hart said it's not an unreasonable distance, but noted the steep hills between CMC and Lincoln Avenue, icy winter conditions and the lack of sidewalks on 12th Street. Hart said the school is in the early stages of collecting data to see how many students will be affected and how those without automobiles might be accommodated.
Krawzoff said these are "sad and difficult times for bus service," especially considering ridership is up 25 percent so far this year.
"It's very disturbing to be cutting service at the same time," Krawzoff said.