Summit Stage labor challenges could reduce routes for upcoming winter bus schedule

A woman waits for a Summit Stage bus at a stop on Main Street in Frisco on Tuesday, Aug. 31. The county transportation service is understaffed, so officials are considering cutting routes this winter.
Photo by Grace Coomaraswamy / Grace Coomaraswamy Photography

Summit County government isn’t immune to the community’s staffing challenges, and one of the departments working under the strain of a reduced workforce is the Summit Stage transit system.

This summer, the Summit Stage has struggled to find enough candidates to operate its 10 routes, and Transit Director Chris Lubbers said these struggles are causing concern that the issue might be exacerbated come winter, when the free service is used even more than it is now.

“Based on the labor market and the difficulties it’s seeing already, we do expect to have some difficulties filling our positions this winter,” Lubbers said.

During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Aug. 31, Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said there were 18 open positions at a minimum within the Summit Stage department, though Lubbers couldn’t confirm this number. Instead, he said “it was a number of concern for us as we were talking about the winter schedule.”

During a monthly Summit County Transit Board meeting last week, board members discussed how these staffing challenges might affect the transit system moving forward.

“We ended the meeting with the board advising and directing staff to come up with recommendations for how to deal with the expected upcoming driver shortage this winter season and come up with recommendations for how we would provide the highest level of service with a driver shortage,” Lubbers said.

Lawrence, who sits on the Summit County Transit Board, said she expected the team to have to cut routes for the upcoming winter season, though Lubbers noted in an interview that nothing was final yet.

Lawrence said that during the advisory board meeting, the team already started “an order of preference of what would be most impactful (and) least impactful.”

A Summit Stage bus pulls into a stop on Main Street in Frisco on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Grace Coomaraswamy/For the Summit Daily News

One challenge that comes with deciding which routes to cut, if any, is not knowing who is using them. Though Lubbers said the transit system was more heavily used in winter, Lawrence noted it’s difficult to cut routes without knowing whether the Summit Stage is used primarily by residents or visitors.

“What it really continues to come down to is if the Summit Stage is to serve people getting to work, or is it to serve our guests, or maybe it’s a mix of both,” Lawrence said. “If it’s a mix of both, great, but someone’s going to get left out in some of this.”

Currently, the Summit Stage is undergoing an equity and access study, some of which will be presented during a Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7. Part of the goal of the study is to gather more data about who is using the service.

In addition to possibly cutting routes, Summit County Assistant Manager Bentley Henderson reported that the team is probably not going to adopt the Summit Stage’s winter schedule until after Dec. 1. According to Summit County’s website, the summer routes are supposed to operate through Nov. 20 but would be extended if the winter schedule is delayed.

Lubbers explained that if this happens, it would allow more time to recruit talent and get new staff members hired and trained, especially if they don’t already have their commercial driver’s license, which takes about three weeks.

Lubbers noted that this strategy also isn’t confirmed.

Earlier this summer, Lubbers said the team has tried to recruit additional talent by promoting open positions through local media channels, as well as on the buses themselves. The department is also planning to coordinate recruitment teams that’ll travel to areas where the summer tourism season is winding down.

Despite those efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain and reach a full staff, and that’s partly due to the certifications needed and partly due to requirements of the job itself. Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said it takes time for individuals to earn a commercial driver’s license and to get these individuals fully onboarded prior to beginning their job.

In addition, Vargo said the legalization of marijuana in the state has an impact on the number of candidates who are willing to have a job with routine drug testing.

The next Summit County Transit Board meeting is Sept. 30, during which Lubbers said recommendations will be made as to how to move forward for winter.

“There’s going to be some really, really tough decisions here shortly to get ready for the upcoming season,” Lawrence said.

Passengers unload from a Summit Stage bus Tuesday, Aug. 31, in Frisco.
Photo by Grace Coomaraswamy / Grace Coomaraswamy Photography

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