A Steamboat Springs Transit bus navigates heavy snow and traffic downtown. The city has been unable to hire enough seasonal winter drivers to run the full service.

Photo by Scott Franz

A Steamboat Springs Transit bus navigates heavy snow and traffic downtown. The city has been unable to hire enough seasonal winter drivers to run the full service.

Steamboat Springs struggles to hire enough bus drivers to run full winter service

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— Faced with another shortage of seasonal bus drivers, the city of Steamboat Springs will have to budget some significant overtime pay or make cuts to its free winter bus service.

The city's transit department still is looking to hire at least six drivers before the winter bus routes rev up Dec. 8.

In a report to the Steamboat Springs City Council, City Manager Deb Hinsvark outlined five options the city could implement until more drivers are on board.

The options include asking all drivers to pick up an extra shift each week, temporarily shortening the city's western bus route to end at Stock Bridge Transit Center instead of the Steamboat Campground, staring all service an hour later in the morning, shortening night service to end at 9:45 p.m., or eliminating the purple line that serves Yampa Valley Medical Center and the nearby condos.

Hinsvark estimates the overtime costs in the first option could total $35,000 next month and $125,000 from January to April.

Any of the service cuts could be reinstated when the transit department has enough drivers to fully run the service, she said.

The struggle to hire seasonal bus drivers isn't new in Steamboat, but the hiring situation hasn't been this bad since the 2007-08 season, when the transit department was 26 drivers short in October before the service started.

The year before that hiring crisis, the city recruited several seasonal drivers from Australia to fill the ranks.

Steamboat Transit Director Jonathan Flint said Monday that the current hiring situation is challenging but not dire.

He's hopeful it can be resolved by temporarily allowing drivers to accrue overtime.

“It's not a panic thing. It's just we're coming into the season a little short this year,” he said. “We've been here before, and we've done this before.”

The City Council is scheduled to weigh in on the hiring shortage Tuesday night.

A number of factors could be contributing to the shortage this year.

At the height of the Great Recession, the city found it was able to more easily fill the driving spots because competing private sector positions, such as hotel shuttle drivers and construction drivers, were much harder to find.

But as the economy slowly recovers, holders of commercial driver's licenses now have more jobs from which to choose, and some options pay more than the bus driving positions.

Flint also mentioned that a shortage of commercial drivers on the Front Range during flood recovery operations could be taking away some of the potential applicants.

“The big change I've seen this year versus last year is the number of seasonal drivers who are returning to work for us,” Flint said. “Because of some retirements and things like that, we just don't have as many who are returning this winter season.”

The city recruits bus drivers from as far away as Alaska, where Flint himself was a tour bus driver before making the move to Steamboat.

In her memo to council, Hinsvark wrote that strict federal hiring guidelines are making the current hiring process more difficult.

City bus drivers cannot have more than four points on their driver's licenses, and they can't have a drunken driving conviction, including a DUI or DWAI, that is less than seven years old.

Drivers also cannot have smoked marijuana in the 30 days prior to their hiring.

Flint said he doesn't know how much the marijuana rule has impacted the applicant pool, but his department has fielded some questions about the requirement, especially after the state legalized recreational marijuana consumption for adults.

The starting wage for the city's seasonal bus drivers is $15.63 per hour.

Drivers can apply online at www.steamboatsprings.net/jobs.

“It definitely is an interesting job,” Flint said. “I think it's a very good place to work.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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