At a time when Jackson businesses have had difficulty finding staff for any number of positions, Downtowner LLC, the company contracted by START Bus to operate its East Jackson microtransit service beginning Saturday, says it is fully staffed and ready for the service’s launch.
“Staffing hasn’t seemed to be quite as much of an issue as it typically is in the mountain towns,” Downtowner co-founder Stephen Murray said. “Obviously in Jackson employees are at a huge premium; everyone needs employees, everyone needs housing. So we were expecting to have our work cut out for us, but it hasn’t been that bad. So we’re fully staffed up and ready to launch on Nov. 27.”
Murray said the company was somewhat surprised by how smoothly the hiring process went, because though Downtowner operates similar services in mountain towns in Colorado, Utah and Tahoe, among others, Jackson presents unique challenges “just because of the nature of the town and it’s truly, Jackson’s truly an island,” more isolated than most other ski towns. Murray said Downtowner LLC has been in business since 2012.
The service, called START On Demand, is replacing the circulator routes in Jackson from the far east reaches of East Jackson to the west edge of Karns Meadow. As the service’s name indicates, rides are provided on demand, with riders scheduling their pickup times and routes through a downloadable app on their smartphones and such devices.
START Bus interim Director Bruce Abel said the Town Shuttle and fixed routes other than the East Jackson circulator routes will continue to operate on their normal schedules and routes, unaffected by the introduction of microtransit service.
Murray said the microtransit service will operate in Jackson with between 10 and 15 drivers, who are employees of Downtowner LLC and work regularly scheduled shifts, being paid $20 per hour regardless of how many rides each driver makes during any given shift.
“I know we have some people that will work two days a week; there’s some folks that just want to work on weekends; there’s folks that do want full time,” Murray said. “So just a good mix of everybody, and I think that’s one of the one of the aspects that leads to sometimes having an easier time hiring than, say, a transit agency. We can typically go after folks that are just looking for some supplemental income, and it might be someone that’s retired that just loves being out and about town.”
Downtowner’s fleet of microtransit vehicles, which are provided by the company for its drivers, include electric vehicles that are able to accommodate four passengers at a time and are equipped with ski racks, and two gas vans that are “normal 14-passenger vans,” Murray said.
“That was definitely one of the whole points of the program, is taking 40-foot buses out of the neighborhoods that might only have, you know, zero to three people on them at any given time,” Murray said.
Another bright spot, Murray said, is that Downtowner was able to hire a local workforce, with “the vast majority living in Jackson, either right there in town or out by Rafter J.”
He noted “that’s a huge thing for us, getting getting folks who want to work that are in town, because on heavy snow days the pass is going to close, which doesn’t happen all the time, but the longer someone has to travel in the winter for employment, the more complications can arise,” he said. “We see that in Tahoe, with some folks that come from Reno in the winter. It’s not a problem all the time, but there can be issues that come up.
“So yeah, we were able to hire a lot of folks right there in town, and we’re obviously really happy about that.”