Summit Stage winter bus schedule delayed until December
November 22, 2016
A shortage of bus drivers has caused Summit County to delay its winter bus schedule to Dec. 11, with several cutbacks in service.
At the end of October, James Andrew, the transit director for Summit County, said the Summit Stage transit system is 10 drivers short to run at full winter capacity. He added that the application pool had all but dried up in September.
"We, up until September, were pretty much on track to filling all of our positions," Andrew said. "We typically, every year, go through a hiring effort in the summer and fall. This year we just found ourselves really coming up short."
While there have been more applications, and five possible candidates have been interviewed, the county, as well as the transportation board, decided it was still not enough to run a full schedule this winter.
In order to help boost recruitment of drivers, Andrew said that the starting wage of Summit Stage drivers was increased to $18.50 an hour. Previously, drivers started at an hourly rate of $16.89. Drivers that were already working received the raise as well. Andrew said that they also made adjustments to the bonus program for drivers. New drivers are awarded bonuses after they complete training and once they get through their probation period. Drivers can get bonuses once a quarter based on their performance as well. Andrew said that they recently added a referral bonus.
The cutbacks in service eliminated five driver positions compared to the winter schedule last year. Geoff Guthrie, the transit operations manager for the county, said that even with reduced service in the schedule, they are still four drivers short. If there is still a shortage by the time the winter schedule is set to start in a little over two weeks, Andrew said it will mean overtime for current drivers.
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"That's kind of a mixed blessing. We have some people that really like working the overtime, but we have other people who would just as soon have the time off," Andrew said.
The Summit Stage will continue running on the summer schedule until Dec. 11. Typically, the winter schedule starts in mid-November, in time for a potential increase in riders over the Thanksgiving holiday. However, the shortage of drivers pushed the schedule back. The combination of the holiday and fresh powder may bring more riders in.
"It's snowing and everybody on the Front Range knows that, so I anticipate those full buses to start very soon," Guthrie said.
To accommodate people traveling to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the Swan Mountain Flyer began a limited service schedule last Sunday. It will make four round-trips to A-Basin a day, which will boost up to nine round-trips after the start of the winter schedule. It will also make an additional two trips a day to Breckenridge and Keystone when Keystone Resort has night skiing.
The typical winter schedule provides service every 30 minutes during the day and hourly at night. The reduced winter schedule will also switch to an hourly service from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
One of the first cutbacks that members of the transit board recommended to the county was to stop rush hour or skier express routes. The board consists of members from the towns and ski resorts throughout Summit County.
Bruce Camping, the transit planner for the county, said that part of the reason the county decided to remove these specific services is because the routes are duplicates of bus lines already in place. The express route, for example, cuts out some of the stops to make the trip faster.
"Given that we have this driver shortage, that was one of the first ones that we recommended to be eliminated because we're not taking away a bus route from anyone, we're just eliminating a faster ride in favor of a slower ride at a similar time," said Camping.
He added that many of the express routes were put in places where bus drivers reported "overloaded buses." If a bus driver calls in a report that a route had to leave people behind because their bus was too full, Camping said the county can send out an additional bus. This can happen on busy weekends, particularly during the holidays. If the resources are available at the time, the Summit Stage will continue to do that this winter.
The Summit Daily asked locals on the One Man's Junk Summit County Facebook page how the cutbacks might affect them. Tammy Luri, who rides the Summit Stage daily, was concerned the cutbacks may extend her transit time. Caity McManis commented that the bus routes are primarily used by the workforce, which often depends on the Summit Stage to get to work.
"Too many people depend on the bus to make it up here for it to be cut much more," she wrote.
Andrew said that it's still to early to say if the cutbacks will cause an increase in the amount of riders on the bus. Ridership is also impacted by activity in the county.
"We certainly weren't happy that we had to do this, but it was necessary and we're trying to make it as painless on everybody that we can," Andrew said.
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