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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Springs Transit fully staffed ahead of ski season; armed with four new buses

Bus driver staffing has been tough in recent seasons, but a concerted effort to hire has SST in a better position than most transit operations.

Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint introduced about 20 new bus drivers to City Council last week, roughly half of his 42-person transit team — a team that is fully staffed heading into the ski season.

Fittingly, they all got there on one of SST’s brand-new buses.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Flint said, as he championed several key staff members that helped with recruiting.

The city placed an extra emphasis on recruiting bus drivers through the summer after City Council abruptly decided to devote someone specifically to recruitment at a transit update in June — a suggestion that came from then Council member Heather Sloop and quickly got support from the rest of council.

At that update, Flint said by the end of last season he was down at least 10 drivers, with some of them leaving because of the stress of the job. Also complicating transit hiring is the steep increase in expenses for transit systems, largely in labor, fuel and parts. In June as city council considered extending routes, Flint said that even a 10% increase in the transit budget wouldn’t be enough to maintain service at current levels.

Flint said the city got more than 170 applications for bus drivers this summer, but that his team is very selective with who they bring on.

“When I get on an airplane, I expect that the pilot and copilot are awesome. … I’m hoping that the pilot wasn’t just a number to get up to fully staffed,” Flint said. “I want them to spend a lot of time working with the applicant.”

Not only does someone need to pass background checks, have clean driving history and meet other qualifications, Flint emphasized that bus drivers in Steamboat often need to be a people person as well.

“This is just a good group,”  Flint said. "I’m really happy with the group that we’ve got."

SST’s winter schedule is starting on Nov. 25, which is earlier than they have in the past. Flint said typically the schedule would start when the flights start coming in at Yampa Valley Regional Airport (mid-December), but he wanted to start it earlier to get all the new bus drivers acclimated with their routes before buses get full.

SST has also added four new hybrid-electric buses to its fleet ahead of the ski season. The buses — which cost about $811,000 each — have a diesel generator and electric drive. This allows for the buses to turn off the generators when in certain areas, making them much quieter when in high pedestrian traffic areas.

“When we get into the Downtown area, the generator will automatically shut off and it will go on pure battery power,” Flint said. “When it gets up to the ski area base, it goes through the geo-fence again, so it is just electric power.”

Flint said he started working on getting these four buses two years ago. The city has been working to change all buses to hybrid-electric since 2007and with these new buses, that task is now complete. Flint said they would continue to run six diesel buses this winter as the new ones come on line, but that the city intends to sell them in the spring.

Top Photo Caption: New bus drivers for Steamboat Springs Transit were introduced to City Council last week, getting to the meeting on one of SST's new buses. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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