Steamboat Springs An energy boom in Australia could affect winter bus service in Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Springs Transportation Director George Krawzoff said this week that his department is currently 26 drivers short for its winter bus service program. Last winter, nine seasonal, foreign workers - including six Australians - drove Steamboat Springs Transit buses. This year, there will be no foreign drivers.
Krawzoff said an energy boom in Australia has lured away many of the workers that would have considered driving buses in Steamboat this winter. A weakening dollar also has made working in the U.S. a less appealing option. Krawzoff said recruiting one or two drivers from other countries was not cost-effective.
"When we began recruiting, we rapidly found there was little or no interest in Australia due to the energy boom there," Krawzoff said. "They would have been happy to do it again, if not for the situation in their country."
Krawzoff expressed his concerns Tuesday, during an all-day discussion of the city's 2008 budget with the Steamboat Springs City Council.
"We're at a crisis point with bus drivers," Krawzoff said. "We have 14. I need 40. We have two applicants."
Krawzoff's concerns were not lost on the council, which approved adding $45,000 to Krawzoff's recruitment budget for winter bus drivers.
"I have a real concern about our bus driver situation," Councilman Paul Strong said.
On Wednesday, Krawzoff said three more applications have been received and prepared a proposal for City Manager Alan Lanning, describing allocations of the new city funds. Ideas include giving the drivers holiday pay and paid time off, installing tip jars on the buses, purchasing Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. silver medallion passes for driver use and further subsidizing housing.
Last month, the City Council approved two lease agreements for bus driver housing, at 525 Dabney Lane and 690 Amethyst Court. Krawzoff said he hopes to reduce drivers' rent at those locations to $350 a month. Drivers earn $15.02 an hour, a wage that would rise to $15.60 an hour on Jan. 1 if, as expected, City Council passes a budget that raises city wages 4 percent across the board.
Krawzoff said such a benefits package is necessary to compete with other resort communities.
"What people are doing to attract these people is extraordinary," Krawzoff said.
When asked if he thought the city would be able to fill all 40 driver positions, Krawzoff said, "It's a huge challenge right now, and I'd say it's too close to call."
Before the city decided to add $45,000 to his recruitment budget, Krawzoff said he would have answered "absolutely not."
"This gives us a chance," he said.
If all the positions aren't filled, Krawzoff said the frequency of bus service would have to be reduced and routes would likely be cut, starting with recently added and lesser-used routes.
"These are very painful cuts," Krawzoff said. "Generally speaking, frequency is everything to a transit system."
Krawzoff's trouble finding bus drivers highlights a number of other larger concerns for city officials. The increased difficulty of finding quality employees in all departments is reflected in the city's proposed 2008 budget, which would add an additional $120,000 for recruitment to the human resources department.
At a council meeting last month, Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord estimated the city will lose nearly all of its department heads and mid-management staff members to retirement in the next 10 years.
"We are now in a situation where we need to be competitive," City Council President Susan Dellinger said Tuesday.
Councilman Towny Anderson said the bus driver situation speaks to the difficulty the city will have in addressing its traffic concerns. He said talks of cutting routes and frequency represent steps in the wrong direction.
"I'm very concerned," Anderson said. "We don't have a plan."
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