Summit Stage to cut back how frequently it operates in light of labor shortage
The changes will take effect Oct. 31 instead of in November
Summit County staff feared that the community’s labor shortage would result in reduced routes or service for the Summit Stage’s winter schedule, and that fear is now a reality. To cope with the department’s reduced workforce, buses soon will operate on an hourly schedule rather than visiting bus stops every 30 minutes.
During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Oct. 5, Summit Stage Transit Director Chris Lubbers and Summit Stage planner Bruce Camping laid out a new proposal that was already recommended by the system’s advisory board.
Camping reported that the department has a deficit that equates to about 21 full-time drivers, and despite a robust hiring plan, efforts to hire new drivers have been relatively unsuccessful. Camping said the department was already experiencing staffing struggles before the pandemic and that new challenges brought on by the virus are making it that much more difficult to staff up.
“Workforce housing has been a huge issue with the Stage,” Camping said. “At one point, 100% of applicants who did not already have local housing established declined the offer of employment. That’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with.”
Most of the drivers currently employed by Summit Stage are working overtime to keep the service running, and Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said this worries her.
“I think it has reached a tipping point,” Lawrence said. “I really feel that our workforce right now at Summit County government is very precious and fragile — and especially at Summit Stage. We’ve got to do what we can to take care of the ones we do have, so I think that unequivocally, if you guys are saying (your) folks are burnt out, they are way past burnout.”
Currently, the Summit Stage visits bus stops along major routes every 30 minutes, but Camping proposed the new schedule operate hourly instead. The system would still operate hourly for its late-night service. Camping said this was meant to be a temporary system and that the team will strategically increase service as soon as recruiting allows.
He also proposed launching the winter schedule on Oct. 31 rather than its typical November launch. He said this could give the department more time to hire and train new drivers, which could potentially expand service in December.
Under this plan, Camping’s presentation reported that this change equates to saving about 11 full-time driver positions, leaving enough work for about 10 extra full-time positions. Camping said to fill the gap, they’ll continue to rely heavily on overtime, as well as do what they can to hire four more full-time drivers before the winter season.
Camping said relying on so much overtime help was undesirable but that it was still a “safe maximum” in how much work drivers could take on. In general, all of the county commissioners were supportive of the plan and encouraged Lubbers and Camping to proceed.
As for how those extra positions will be filled, Camping said they do rely on part-time drivers — the department currently has about six — as well as other recruitment efforts. One such tool they’re using is visiting places like Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Glacier National Park to recruit seasonal help. Wages have also been increased recently, and the county has some housing at Little Beaver Trail in Dillon and through the master lease at Alpine Inn in Frisco. All of these will be used as methods to attract workers to the department.
For more information about Summit Stage, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/586/transit-summit-stage.
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