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Summit Stage drivers voice concerns to BOCC

Summit Stage drivers who are concerned about schedule changes and impending layoffs expressed their views to the county commissioners this week. Click on the image to see video coverage of the ongoing Summit Stage debate.

County officials say they’ll review an alternate cost study done by drivers; savings to Stage budget at issue in ongoing debate over schedule and service changes

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Local bus drivers for the Summit Stage once again aired their grievances about a schedule change, telling the county commissioners this week that the switch from a four-day to a five-day work week is not justified by the cost-savings identified by an outside transit consultant.

The Stage has been pinched by the general decline in sales tax revenues the past year. In response, the transit board cut back on service for the second summer in a row. At the same time, director John Jones ordered a transit study to look for additional savings. He said the results showed that the move to a five-day work week would cut annual costs by more than $160,000.

Drivers with Stage did an alternate analysis of the numbers. They claim the schedule shift will actually cost the county more money than it saves. Those numbers were at issue during a transit board meeting two weeks ago, when board members said they would look at the information to try and get a better picture of the situation. Transit board members said it’s unlikely they would switch the schedule back for this summer, but indicated they would try and restore the four-day work week when the Stage goes back to a winter schedule.

County officials said they hope to analyze the numbers provided by the drivers by the end of this week.

“They have some legitimate concerns,” said assistant county manager Scott Vargo. “But we think we’ve been really reasonable. It’s difficult for the drivers to know that … We’re going to try and review the cost analysis done by the drivers before the end of this week,” he said. “We owe it to them to explain why or how we’ve arrived at these numbers.”

Vargo said that, while the county plans a thorough review of the cost study done by the drivers, staff is fairly confident that the schedule change based on the outside consultant report will result in a legitimate cost-savings to the county.

At the same time, the drivers’ union is engaged in wage negotiations with the county. Some drivers have also expressed concerns about the cutback to hourly service for part of the day under the summer schedule, set to take effect next week.

Bill Acuff, who is negotiating on behalf of the drivers, said the county all but promised taxpayers to provide 30-minute service when the last sales tax hike for Stage funding was passed by voters. He pointed to language in the approving resolution, but county officials dispute that there is any legal obligation to run buses every half hour.

“I gave the staff a lemon because this left such a sour taste in the mouths of the drivers,” Acuff said, adding that about 10 drivers showed up at the county commissioner meeting. He is asking the county to revert back to a four-day work week with 30-minute service in order to save the jobs of drivers about to laid off.

“Why should we contribute to unemployment if we don’t have to?” he concluded.

Read previous coverage and see video interviews with some of the local officials involved in the ongoing Summit Stage debate here.

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2 Responses

  1. The Summit Stage 2010 summer schedule altered several past practices of employment for Summit Stage Bus Operators. Many of the changes are detrimental to county worker safety and welfare. A few are needlessly harmful to public service. A summary of some of the most critical issues are addressed below:

    1] Whether the five-day work schedule is beneficial for employees.

    The new summer schedule transfers costs from Summit County to employees. By reducing the amount of over-time available by cutting the number of days free from work by one day per week, employees are less able to acquire the over-time hours necessary to provide the most essential needs of basic living. Any extra costs incurred in any year for health needs such as surgery or long-term illness, family care, eye care, oral surgery beyond preventative care can no longer be covered by employees who cannot obtain extra hours to provide emergency savings. Incoming or recent residents to the county cannot afford housing on the basic wage of bus operators.

    The five-day schedule adds commuting costs to the expenses of bus operators living many miles away from Frisco due to the high cost of living in Summit County. Therefore, bus operators who live in Leadville, Fairplay, Kremling, and other distant locations must increase their commuting costs by one-fifth, travel more hours without pay, and handle one more day of burden on their families, which may include additional child care costs.

    2] Whether transferring the commute to Leadville for the Lake County Link from Summit County vehicles to bus operator private vehicles is beneficial.

    Scott Vargo recently stated that Summit Stage employees who reside in Leadville would have lower commuting costs because they would take the Leadville route assignment. Actually, only one Summit Stage employee was eligible to bid on the Lake County Link route. No Leadville resident bid on the route.

    The four drivers assigned to the route are residents of Dillon, Frisco, Silverthorne, and Fairplay. The drivers commuting to Leadville will add sixty miles a day to their transportation costs. In addition, the Summit County employees will lose pay for the hours during which they drive to a foreign county. This additional commute will cost bus operators approximately one-tenth of their take-home pay.

    There are bus operators who do not own automobiles. On Summit County wages, some drivers have made a choice between owning a vehicle and paying the high rents and paying for other high costs of living in Summit County. Although the issue did not arise this season, the question that arises is whether a bus driver assigned the Lake County Link and cannot afford to own an automobile is subject to termination from employment with Summit County.

    Furthermore, during the commute in private vehicles, the bus operators will have no means to contact the Dispatch Office in the event of an emergency. Unlike the county vehicles, private vehicles do not have digital radios with a range to extend over the Ten-Mile Range. There is no cell phone coverage from Copper Mountain to Leadville. Therefore, a bus operator may have an accident or mechanical difficulties and be unable to contact the Frisco Office.

    3] Whether one-third swing shifts are conducive to Summit Stage safety.

    Four summer bus operators are assigned to a shift structure that requires swings within every five-day work week. Employees will be required to get off work, commute home, eat a meal, and go to bed at approximately 9:00 PM the first two nights of the work week, then swing forward to go to sleep at 5:00 AM on the last three nights of the work week. Such swings will feel like jet lag and interrupt the sleep cycle of every assigned driver, creating increased accident susceptibility. Among state snowplow drivers on graveyard shifts, the state requires drivers to pull off the road if dozing at the wheel. Despite these directives, snowplow drivers have a history of falling asleep and running equipment off the roads.

    Summit Stage drivers have also had incidents of dozing at the wheel under the existing night schedules. However, under the new swings, drivers will be more likely to fall asleep or become inattentive during driving. In order to maintain a strict schedule, Summit Stage operators are not allowed to pull off the road and sleep. Therefore, operators will be more likely to cause accidents and be subject to discipline, including termination.

    4] Whether hourly service during day shifts are beneficial to Summit County residents.

    Summit Stage late-night routes extend nearly three hours after the Breckenridge Free Ride is out-of-service. The late-night routes provide service to single-digit ridership. The service enables residents and visitors to abuse alcohol and commit more crimes than would occur without a free transit system operating until bar closings. Every weekend, law enforcement is dispatched to handle emergencies aboard buses or at transit stations caused by intoxication. With the recent expansion of private, for-profit taxi service in Summit County, there is no need for the Summit Stage to provide services for alcoholics and violent criminals in the county.

    In contrast, cutting public transit services from half-hour to once-hourly routes during daylight hours is detrimental to far more significant ridership numbers. On hourly service, residents can beat public transit to destinations across the county by walking, bicycling, or using a private vehicle. Hourly daytime service creates inconveniences for deserving families with children conducting business such as employment, shopping, and obtaining medical services. The numbers of riders served during the daylight hours is far greater than those served by buses running after midnight in Summit County.

    5] Whether elimination of the Swan Mountain Flyer on the summer schedule is beneficial to Summit County residents.

    While few people ride the Summit Cove subdivision route through the day and most utilize the bus for optional shopping trips that can be planned for hourly service, residents of Keystone who work in Breckenridge have no means to link with the Frisco to Breckenridge route across Swan Mountain during the summer.

    Hourly service that creates a hybrid route makes sense for many of these residents. Many people have inquired about the viability of some service across the county that would shorten the time required to take the Keystone-Silverthorne-Frisco route to the transfer to Breckenridge. Most express satisfaction with once-an-hour service if both the Summit Cove and Swan Mountain Flyer service can be preserved in some form throughout the year. The cost of maintaining service throughout Summit Cove and express service across the county should be de minimus compared to limiting service to exclusively Summit Cove.

  2. 2 thoughts fer you

    1) how does a bus driver know more about planning than a executive board, a consultant, and the managers? they don’t their bus drivers. So either prove your brain power become a consultant, a manager, or a board member.

    2) shut the heck up. at least you have a job. so be happy that you get a regular check and have employment when so many of us don’t.

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