Last month, Steamboat Springs Transit free-to-rider buses carried 183,586 passengers. The number was just short of recording a 10th straight monthly record in February.

Photo by John F. Russell

Last month, Steamboat Springs Transit free-to-rider buses carried 183,586 passengers. The number was just short of recording a 10th straight monthly record in February.

Record Steamboat Springs Transit ridership streak ends

February falls below total from same month last year

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— The Steamboat Springs Transit free-to-rider buses came up short of recording a 10th straight monthly record in February, but the dip in ridership could be attributable in large part to the anomaly of the leap year in 2008.

SST Operations Manager Jonathan Flint said this week that city buses carried 183,586 passengers last month, down from the record 192,011 in February 2008. However, Flint hastened to add that the leap year added a day of ridership to last year's totals. Average February daily ridership of 6,850 passengers accounts for some the 8,425 shortfall.

"It's the first down month since April of last year," Flint said. "It's disappointing to break that streak, but we're still up 1.3 percent for the winter season."

The managers of Steamboat's transit operation learned Tuesday they most likely will not have to cut routes or furlough bus drivers and dispatchers in order to satisfy the latest round of budget cuts by Steamboat Springs City Council.

"I'm working on the summer schedule right now and don't anticipate changes from last summer," Flint said.

SST carried almost 1.3 million passengers in 2008.

Public Works Director Philo Shelton said before Tuesday's City Council meeting that of the $400,000 that must be cut from the 2009 transit budget, $250,000 can be written off to declining prices in diesel fuel. Shelton said he and Flint had budgeted for diesel to cost $5.25 per gallon this year, but the retail price of diesel is about $2.30 per gallon, creating some painless room in the budget. The city does not pay tax for its fuel.

Shelton said in addition to the fuel cost adjustment in the budget, SST would trim the expense of recruiting visa workers from other nations to fill out the ranks of drivers.

Flint said when he budgeted for 2009 last summer, he put the cost of recruiting foreign bus drivers into his spreadsheet, but a local recruiting effort last fall made the practice unnecessary for the winter of 2008-09. He is assuming employment trends will allow SST to do the same next ski season. As recently as fall 2007, the city's transit department was struggling to hire sufficient numbers of drivers to service the planned routes.

SST employed about 40 drivers this winter. The number will drop to 17 to 19 full-time drivers April 13 with a few part-timers kept on to cover summer vacations. Service intervals are planned to remain at 20 minutes throughout spring, summer and fall, but some routes at the base of Steamboat Ski Area change to account for the reduced number of passengers circulating between the ski area and nearby condominium projects.

Flint said with a veteran crew in place, his staff is working to tweak routes to improve customer service. When riders and drivers suggested moderating the red line to deliver passengers to the Routt County Justice Center and LIFT-UP of Routt County on the city's west side, the slight adjustment in the route paid off with increased ridership.

Flint said he thinks SST gained riders during the period of high gas prices in 2007 and early 2008 and many of those passengers have permanently changed their mass transit habits.

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