Park City investment in driver subsidized housing is a win-win

April 16, 2024
Utah’s Park City Transit teamed up with the city to address season housing challenges, which led to improved service efficiency and stronger recruitment.

In the bustling ski resort town of Park City, U​tah​, the busy winter season requires that local transit agencies like Park City Transit (PCT) retain extra help to ensure efficient transportation for the community and visitors. PCT’s free, year-round bus service utilizes seasonal bus operators who come into town to assist with this influx in ridership. 

Many of these operators, staying only a couple of months in the city, find themselves facing high living expenses and housing costs in the agency’s service area. Park City home prices were up 47.5 percent in February 2024 compared to last year, selling for a median price of $2.5 million according to Redfin. Many of the rentals in the area average around or above $1,600 a month based on Zillow listings. 

PCT faced a problem that many public transit agencies have delt with since well before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it: ​How​ to hire and retain reliable, skilled workers who cannot afford to live where they work. 

The agency wanted to help alleviate the housing stress experienced by its bus operators by ensuring they would have a roof over their head and keeping​​ more of their hard-earned dollars in their pocket. 

In 2013, the agency invested federal funding secured by Kent Cashel, PCT’s transit manager at the time, in a 13-unit property to provide subsidized housing units closer to the bus lines. PCT built another 23 units in 2018 with one being an AD​A-​accessible unit. 

The units resemble hotel rooms in their simplicity, providing renters with all the necessities. PCT ensures that bus operators are comfortable in the city​,​ with many food places and convenient stores located in the vicinity. 

The units are first come, first served, with many applying for the housing before the winter season. 

A more efficient system with less commute time 

Being able to live closer to their work has increased efficiency for PCT and has provided stability and peace of mind to bus operators. 

Prior to PCT’s worker housing initiative, high housing costs forced many to live far from work​,​ and it became an inconvenience for operators working early shifts and coming home late. It also drove skilled workers away from working with the agency at one point or another. 

Kim Fjeldsted, transit manager for PCT​,​ said the commute to work for bus operators was a potential setback to starting service on time for the day. 

“Commuting is tough on a bus operator because you're looking at a 45-minute commute up a canyon, trying to make it to work on their own time and be reliable is really hard for the people that are getting the buses out on the street first thing in the morning,” said Fjeldsted. 

In addition to proximity to work, the affordable units are fully furnished, which Fjeldsted indicates is a point of convenience for seasonal operators. 

“They can just come with their backpack,” said Fjeldsted. “They don't have to move their furniture or anything and have a place to live comfortably right next door to their work.” 

Commuters can ride their bikes, walk or scooter their way into work in less than ​10​ minutes. 

PCT’s housing program currently has 36 employees in affordable housing located in the Park City area, paying a rate of $600 per month. 

Since PCT hires nearly 100 people each winter, including 75 full-time drivers, it is exceeding the 20 percent housing goal that the city set for new developments.

The success PCT experienced with the program was honored by the American Public Transportation Association with its Innovation Award, which recognized the program’s results in supporting PCT’s bus operators and riders.

Nothing but highs 

PCT’s housing units have established an overall better climate in the system and in the city itself. The agency has not only expanded its driver retention rate, but has also diversified its workforce by supporting lower-income employees and offering affordable living opportunities within the city. 

​​Fjeldsted commented on the need for this type of program in Park City​.​​ 

“I don’t believe Park City could have fulfilled the growing transit needs without the housing,” said Fjeldsted. 

The housing program was launched as PCT was rapidly growing its system to serve an increasing population while also undergoing organizational change. PCT provided service in Summit County between 2006 and 2021 under an interlocal agreement. U.S. Census data shows the population of the city increased more than 14 percent - from 7,000 to 8,000 - between 2010 and 2020. Organizational changes came in 2021 when the county formed a regional transit system, High Valley Transit (HVT), which allows PCT to focus on the city service. 

“While our staffing needs were reduced by approximately 40 percent, we still find ourselves in need of more employee housing,” said Fjeldsted. “HVT experiences the same issue and they are pursuing housing for their operators as well.” 

The agency is also working to support operators wanting to stay on after the winter season and establish a life in Park City. 

“The cost of living has just gotten worse in Park City,” said Fjeldsted. “We were struggling to recruit and retain full time employees so we started to set aside some of our seasonal housing for them to live there year-round in the hopes that they will be able to put some money aside to be able to get their own place or get on one of the city's affordable housing programs.” 

Fjeldsted ​notes ​the program has retained some bus operators for up to four years in Park City. 

Overall, the quality of life for PCT employees has improved. They can experience the city and all it has to offer with tasty foods and access to the ski resorts in the area, they get to “live like the locals.” 

Expanding transit accessibility 

To increase access to flexible transportation, Park City will be re-launching its microtransit service in partnership with HVT in July 2024, which will grant the Park City community access to transportation in its more dense areas. 

Riders will be able to put in their destination on the High Valley app and their entire trip will be planned for them, including bus routes. 

The Park City Council has indicated it may establish a permanent microtransit service in the future but wants to evaluate ridership data from ​the pilot​ before making any decisions. 

PCT is working to expand its housing units to continue to provide better living for its employees. 

About the Author

Eman Abu-Khaled | Associate Editor

Eman Abu-Khaled is a recent graduate of Kent State University with a bachelors in journalism. She works through Endeavor Business Media with Mass Transit as an associate editor. Abu-Khaled brings a fresh perspective to the visual side of journalism with an interest in video and photography work.