Summit Stage could see more service cuts due to ongoing bus driver shortage
FRISCO — A continued shortage of qualified drivers could force more service cuts to the Summit Stage, the county’s free bus system, which has already seen cuts to this winter’s schedule due to staffing shortages.
Of 60 budgeted bus driver positions, 42 are currently filled, representing a 30% staffing shortage that has put the service on the verge of enacting contingency plans that would see some routes cutting stop frequency in half during certain hours.
Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson said the county’s continued struggle to hire drivers is the same problem being faced by regional transport carriers including the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and RTD in Denver.
The problem also has extended to schools, including Summit School District, where a school bus driver shortage in 2018 led to bus stop cuts, drawing the ire of parents. The cuts later were reversed.
The Summit Stage transported 1.75 million passengers across the county in 2019 for free. That was a 3.4% increase over 2018 ridership. Aside from providing convenient, free transportation to tourists visiting the ski areas and towns, many local residents rely on the bus service to commute to work and travel around the county.
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In explaining the staffing shortage, Henderson was joined by Summit Stage Operations Manager Geoff Guthrie as well as county Transit Director Michael Chinn. The three said the issues with lack of applications from qualified drivers are related to federal drug testing and health physical requirements from the federal department of transportation limiting the pool of qualified applicants.
Following the county’s transit advisory board meeting Wednesday morning, it was revealed that the driver shortage already is causing issues with overtime and administrative staff needing to take on driving duties along with their regular work to make up for the shortfall. Henderson said that if the shortage continues or becomes worse, the county will need to enact contingency plans that could include more service cuts.
“The plan is currently being developed by our staff, but we do not anticipate we will need to use it,” Henderson said. “We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
The contingency plan could include reducing the frequency of stops from every half hour to every hour between 4 and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Those cuts could be expanded if the driver shortage drags on or gets worse.
The current cuts to the winter schedule, which include a reduction to late night service, will remain in effect while the shortage continues.
Henderson wanted to make clear that the staffing issue is not a budgetary one. On Jan. 28, the county and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1751, the local bus driver’s union representing Summit Stage drivers, had struck a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement.
Among the changes with the current contract is a higher starting pay, from $18.50 an hour to $19.30 an hour or more based on experience, with more regular pay bumps and bonuses.
Guthrie added that the job provides a full county benefits package as well as a free commercial driver’s license training course for any otherwise qualified applicants who do not have a commercial license.
To apply to be a driver for the Summit Stage bus system, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/jobs.
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