Summit County officials push to increase Summit Stage bus service for winter 2023-24 schedule

Commissioners want 30-minute-maximum wait times as aging bus fleet continues to hamper service

The Summit Stage added its first three electric buses to its fleet Monday, Oct. 19.
Sawyer D’Argonne/Summit Daily News archive

Summit County leaders are pushing to increase the frequency of bus service from the Summit Stage for the upcoming winter season after the lead official for the county’s transit department said service frequency would likely vary. 

During a Sept. 26 Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting, Transit Director Chris Lubbers said some routes would see wait times beyond 30 minutes this winter, though the department has plans to make 30-minute wait times universal next summer. 

But after a major push to raise wages for bus drivers, Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she hoped that kind of frequency would be possible in the coming months. 

“I don’t understand why we are not talking about 30-minute service this winter period, let alone some routes over other routes,” Pogue said. 

The starting hourly pay for Summit Stage drivers is currently $29.25, which increases to $32.24 after one year and $34.25 after another. But beyond staffing issues, Lubbers said service frequency is hindered by the department’s fleet, which he said is “lagging slightly behind.”

“The age, overall, of our fleet is at a point where unexpected repairs are plaguing us and not allowing enough buses available each morning to roll-out,” Lubbers said. 

Commissioners said they were concerned given the expansion of capital spending to improve the Summit Stage’s fleet, which included purchasing three fully electric buses. 

“I guess I’m surprised to hear that we’re in a position where we just simply don’t have enough buses,” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence.

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Lubbers said spending on buses has been staggered since 2017 and led to a mixed-fleet of too many older buses and not enough new ones. For the county’s roughly 30-bus fleet to be adequately operational, Lubbers suggested acquiring four buses each year, some new, to ensure the overall stock of vehicles averages about 300,000 miles. 

The current fleet is “averaging around 600,000 right now,” Lubbers said, though the addition of three new electric vehicles should help, he added. 

“We can do this, and the capital is available and possible,” Lubbers said. 

Pogue said she was disappointed to hear 30-minute service may not be on the table for some routes this winter, adding, “getting up to 30-minute service is what our workforce relies on us to provide to this community.”

“And certainly, as we have lots of other conversations around climate change and transit-oriented design and all of those things, the fact that we can’t get back up to 30-minute service is beyond surprising,” Pogue added. 

With a winter bus schedule set to be rolled-out by mid-November, commissioners asked Lubbers if it would be possible to explore ways to increase service times later in the season, possibly starting Jan. 1. 

County leaders said the Stage could look at data to identify where denser ridership exists, and target those communities specifically for increased service. 

Lawrence said the department should understand if “there’s some routes that warrant a different level of services because maybe those routes are full and have members of the workforce trying to get to work.” 

Lubbers said, “It’s possible that those conversations should and could continue.” 

He also added bus schedules are not “written in stone” and that “anything and everything can be changed. It simply adds time and effort to the process.”

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