A reliable, fully staffed public transit system is a crucial commodity in a resort town such as Steamboat Springs. This was graphically illustrated during the recent WinterWonderGrass event, which saw thousands of festival goers descend upon Steamboat and record numbers of riders utilize the city’s free bus service.
Steamboat Springs Transit took a proactive step toward securing our supply of seasonal bus drivers by hosting Friday’s summer job fair, but the scarcity of affordable housing continues to stymie recruiting efforts
It’s time to take the next step in guaranteeing the availability of seasonal workers by addressing the housing part of the puzzle
Editorial board: February through May 2017
But maintaining such a system has always presented vexing challenges, not the least of which is in recruiting summer drivers.
That’s why we were encouraged to see Steamboat Springs Transit take a proactive approach toward meeting the staffing challenge by hosting Friday’s summer job fair. As the billing implies, the event was organized primarily as a means of staffing summer positions, but SST also hoped the event would strengthen the city’s recruiting relationship with multiple organizations that send bus drivers and other seasonal employees here during the winter months.
Historically, we’ve always had trouble recruiting seasonal bus drivers, and we applaud SST for hosting the fair, not only as a means of connecting workers with jobs and vice-versa, but also as a way of shoring up the conduits by which those workers come to Steamboat in the first place.
At the same time, however, we wonder what else might be done.
It occurs to us that an important piece of the seasonal worker puzzle is housing. It’s no secret that living in Steamboat — even for a few months at a time — is an expensive prospect, and that’s assuming an adequate number of housing options are even available.
This presents a problem, to be sure, but it may also suggest an opportunity.
The city and county — or perhaps the city alone — could create housing for our seasonal drivers by constructing living facilities at SST’s bus barns. Without question, this would be an ambitious project — one that would require thoughtful planning and creative financing, particularly in light of the city’s problematic attempt to establish such housing in the Iron Horse Inn. But it is far from unrealistic or unattainable.
According to an article published late last year in the Jackson Hole (Wyoming) News and Guide, Jackson Hole and Teton County were seeking taxpayer funding to stake just such a development in the Teton Valley.
The plan — launched as a cooperative effort between START, Teton County’s public transit service, and town and county officials — proposed to use funds generated by a general revenue sales tax to fund construction of a three-and-a-half-story housing complex adjacent to its maintenance building. The article stated the 21,000-square-foot building would be able to house as many as 67 workers in 36 bedrooms and 24 units.
START was cited in the article as having said the design followed the lead of a Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation housing project that was approved and funded earlier in 2016 to offer studio and one-bedroom apartments, better suited for seasonal workers.
We’re not saying a carbon copy of the Teton County housing developments would be a good fit here, but we think something similar might.
Securing seasonal workers year after year is about more than paying a good wage. If potential seasonal workers cannot find affordable housing here, it is reasonable to expect they will find it elsewhere.
Again, constructing housing for seasonal drivers here would require careful planning and buy-in from the community, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But with nearby resort communities already taking ambitious steps to sweeten the pot for such workers, we feel now is the time to at least begin talking about it.
Creative, forward-thinking approaches often yield the best solutions to vexing problems, so, while we congratulate SST on organizing Friday’s job fair, we also challenge the bus service — as well as city and county officials — to build on that momentum and begin laying the groundwork for the next step.
Seasonal workers make up a vital part of the engine that drives our economy and keeps the Yampa Valley such an appealing place to live.
Let’s keep them coming back.