A shortage of drivers may cause cuts in Summit County bus lines
Transit operations throughout Summit County are facing a staff shortage as the winter season looms ahead.
During the summer fewer riders use the Summit Stage transit system. James Andrew, the transit director for Summit County, said ridership in the summer is about half that of winter. Now, there are enough drivers to make the transit system run smoothly. But, as the amount of riders increases, the frequency of buses needs to increase as well.
Andrew said that the county needs 10 additional drivers to adequately run a full winter schedule. He added that they’ve received few applications for the positions. He estimated that among the town of Breckenridge, Keystone Resort, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Copper Mountain Resort, 40 drivers are needed. All of these organizations are represented on the transit board for the county.
“We were getting a fairly steady number of applicants up until, I’d say, mid-September, and then it just kind of dried up,” Andrew said.
Although it does take a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate a bus, Summit County offers on-the-clock paid training for new hires who don’t have experience driving buses or have that particular license. Breckenridge also offers a similar program to help new hires get a CDL.
“None of us require prior experience, it’s nice, but none of us require it,” said Geoff Guthrie, the transit operations manager for the county.
Guthrie called the shortage “unprecedented.” He added that his counterparts in other counties are seeing a similar shortage. Andrew said last winter they were stretched to capacity. The county is currently working with the transit board to create a winter schedule. Typically, the winter schedule is set to start in mid-November. But the driver shortage has caused them to push back until early December.
“Our No. 1 concern far and above everything else is still our ridership, our customers,” Guthrie said. “We’re considering all of these service changes in light of still maintaining getting the worker bees to work on time every day.”
Guthrie said a lack of housing plays a part in the small number of applicants.
“Over the past year of the applicants that I have interviewed for the bus driving job, I would say roughly, close to half of them have turned down the job offer that I have extended them because they cannot find housing,” Guthrie said.
He added that as it is, many of the people currently working in transit are commuting in from Kremmling, Georgetown, Fairplay and Idaho Springs. Guthrie said that he commutes from Leadville.
Andrew said that they have seen a more than 50 percent increase in riders using the bus line going from Leadville to Frisco.
“That’s huge in the transit world,” Guthrie said.
Breckenridge budgeted to hire eight new drivers in the town’s proposed budget for 2017. Kim Dykstra, director of communications for the town, said that applications have not been coming in like they have in the past. But she added that Breckenridge’s transitional housing for new hires has helped the town in all aspects of hiring.
The town has also been trying to encourage residents to use transit options as part of their plan to lessen congestion in Breckenridge. The town plans to add a Brown Route in December to their current transit plan. Dykstra added that the end of the year is when ridership begins to increase as all of the seasonal workers get settled.
“We’re already managing to be able to adjust,” Dykstra said. “We’re all experiencing a shortage in that labor market, but we’re getting creative about how we work our routes and work around getting our transit routes going.”