Summit Stage staff relieved by scaled-back bus schedule after busy summer
Staffers ask riders to be patient with drivers as county works to fill more positions
“Driving is an exhausting job. They’re doing 10-hour shifts five to six days a week, and they’re long, hot days on the bus,” said Robin Erkenbrack, who has been a dispatcher with Summit Stage for about three years. “I think drivers are getting a little tired out where they’re not really given the breaks they should.”
Though the transit system’s staff numbers have frequently dipped below a full workforce, Erkenbrack said this summer was nothing like it has been in the past. He said the department’s full staff usually hovers around 65 drivers. Right now, there are only about 40. To make up for the loss, many drivers worked overtime, and those in other positions, such as Erkenbrack, stepped in to help, too.
“It comes down to negotiating with people to say, ‘Hey, is there any way you could pick up a shift here or there’ to be able to fill it,” he said. “We have supervisors (and) dispatchers that end up driving shifts quite a bit of the time because we’re just so short.”
This is what the summer was like for the Summit Stage workforce. The department has continued to struggle in staffing up its workforce, even with measures like attending a recruitment trip to national parks and increasing wages. While they got through the summer, winter is when the system is used more heavily, and Summit County staff members are worried about bandwidth.
That’s why earlier this week, the Summit Stage announced that it’s cutting back on its services and launching its winter schedule earlier than usual. Instead of operating every 30 minutes, buses will now operate hourly. The schedule is set to take effect Oct. 31.
According to a presentation from Summit Stage planner Bruce Camping, the cuts are expected to eliminate about 11 full-time positions, meaning that there’s still work for about 10 more full-time positions. Camping said the department plans to rely on overtime and hopefully reel in a few more drivers to fill the gap.
Though the news was well-received by the Summit Stage staff, Erkenbrack noted that they’re all still preparing for a busy winter. Just last week, he picked up extra shifts and worked six days in a row. Tom Stechschulte, who has been a driver with Summit Stage since August 2020, is doing what he can to fill in the gaps, too. He said he worked at least one day of overtime about 80% of the weeks during summer.
Though most of the staff is doing the same, there are some routes that are more difficult to fill than others, such as the routes to Fairplay and Leadville.
“It’s because of the distance,” Erkenbrack said. “They start in those towns; they don’t start in Frisco where a bus station is. We keep buses at Fairplay and Leadville, so if you have a route that starts at 6 a.m., the driver has to leave and get out there at 3 a.m. to get all the way over (there) to get the bus ready.”
Luckily, there’s incentives for some of these less-desirable routes, such as gift cards, but those go only so far. Still, these routes are important because a lot of locals rely on them to get to and from work. Erkenbrack noted that the ratio of locals and visitors using the transit service is always in flux but that it’s more heavily used by locals this time of year.
Since the news that the system was cutting back on services, Erkenbrack said some locals have already expressed their concern for how it’ll impact their schedules.
“It’s a concern to them because we’re going from half-hour service to hourly service, so they have to do a lot more planning to get to and from their work,” he said. “I think there’s a concern about the buses filling up because, definitely during those rush-hour times in the morning and the evening, the buses fill up and some of the workers are concerned if they’ll get to work or not.”
The winter schedule is set to take effect Oct. 31. When that happens, Stechschulte said individuals should be well versed in the new schedule to ensure they get to their locations at a decent time.
“I would say that they need to be proactive and know when to get on the bus to make it to work or make it to the ski hill,” Stechschulte said. “… If you think that you can get from the Frisco station to Breckenridge and have five minutes to get to work, that may not be the case anymore.”
Erkenbrack said he’d like those using the service to be understanding as the drivers try to make up for the shortage.
“Just be patient with the drivers,” Erkenbrack said. “They’re trying the best they can. At this point, we’re losing more drivers faster than we’re hiring. It takes a while to train new drivers to get out there. I know the public wants to get from point A to point B, but sometimes they have to give the driver a little bit of a break.”
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