APTA Award

Upcoming Service Expansion

Thank you, Missoula Urban Transportation District voters, for your overwhelming support and approval of Mountain Line’s service expansion request!

Voters chose to invest in expanding zero-fare, accessible service in Missoula by a 20 percent margin on November 3, 2020. Thank you for valuing the benefits Mountain Line provides to this community and for supporting expanding those benefits as our community grows. We are grateful for such strong support.

We’re ramping up our team in 2021, with a plan to debut voter-approved service expansions in 2022. However, like so many across Missoula and nation, we continue to experience a labor shortage. We will expand service as soon as we are adequately staffed and will keep you updated as we go.

Here's a quick overview of what you can expect to see on the street next year.

Click to enlarge.

Service Expansion Educational Content

As Missoula grows, it is important everyone in the community has access to affordable, reliable transportation. That’s why, in 2018, Mountain Line updated its strategic plan. The plan includes five phases and is designed to ensure Mountain Line can continue providing important public transportation to help employees get to work, students get to school and seniors and people with disabilities remain independent and active.

Funding from the voter-approved mill levy increase will go toward implementing the strategic plan and will provide enhanced funding for Mountain Line’s Zero-Fare program.

Mill levy funds will address community needs, resulting in the following service improvements:

The main source of operations funding for Mountain Line has been its perpetual mill levy. Since the creation of the Missoula Urban Transportation District in 1976, Mountain Line has sought voter approval to increase its operating levy only once, prior to the 2020 election. Thanks to overwhelming support of District voters in 2013, the agency was able to add an additional high-frequency BOLT! route, late-evening service and improved services for seniors and people with disabilities.

Future and continued improvements of Mountain Line’s strategic plan require an increase in its operating levy. An increase in local funding will also make Mountain Line more competitive for state and federal grants to help move the agency forward and continue benefiting the entire Missoula community.

For more information, please contact Communications and Outreach Marketing Specialist Shanti Johnson, (406) 215-2461, sjohnson@mountainline.com.

Mountain Line Benefits the Missoula Community: A Zero-Fare Success Story

In January 2015, Mountain Line began a three-year Zero-Fare demonstration project, funded by key community and local government partners. Bus rides that previously cost $1 per trip became free to all riders. At the same time, the agency implemented part of its long-range plan, adding new levels of bus service—Late Evening Service on four core routes and a second high-frequency BOLT! Route—made possible by the 2013 voter-approved mill levy.

The Outstanding Results

Zero-Fare and Mountain Line’s service increases have been a resounding success. Since the debut of Zero-Fare in 2015, ridership has increased almost 70 percent. Mountain Line now provides more than 1.5 million rides annually, with 48 percent of riders surveyed reporting they ride the bus more frequently since the Zero-Fare program began. An added benefit of Zero-Fare is increased efficiency, since no money needs to be collected or processed. It also helped Mountain Line adapt faster to CDC recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the program reduces rider-operator contact.

Increasing Bus Ridership Benefits Us All

More people riding the bus equates to less traffic congestion, less need for parking facilities, and a healthier community as more people choose active transportation. And fewer private vehicles on the road results in less air pollution in the Missoula Valley.It also makes Mountain Line more competitive for state and federal funding, bringing more dollars into the community. In short, a robust Mountain Line helps keep Missoula a more-livable and prosperous community for everyone.

Electrification for Cleaner Air

Over the past three years, Mountain Line has begun converting its fleet of buses from diesel to zero-tailpipe-emissions electric buses. By working to convert its fleet to electric, Mountain Line is helping protect clean air for our community, which is vulnerable to winter inversions and wildfire smoke. The first six electric buses hit the road in 2019, after Mountain Line successfully competed for a federal “Lo-No” grant. In May 2020, it received two additional grants toward the purchase of six more electric buses. These new buses will make for a total of 12 zero-tailpipe-emissions vehicles on the road, bringing the fleet to 40 percent electric. Mountain Line is now even closer to its goal of eliminating all tailpipe emissions from its fleet by 2035.

Here’s a link to our mill levy presentation for reference.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Missoula Urban Transportation District (MUTD) now asking for an increase in the mill levy that funds Mountain Line?

In 2017, Mountain Line underwent an extensive community planning process, which included several public meetings and opportunities for public comment, to inform its 2018 Strategic Plan. The process indicated a community desire for expanded bus services, including increased bus frequency and full weekend service, and increased service for seniors and people with disabilities.

This mill levy increase will provide funding to implement these publicly-requested service expansions.

What specific bus service improvements will Mountain Line provide if voters approve the funding request?

If approved, the specific improvements to bus service will be:

  1. Expand Saturday service hours and add Route 11 service on Saturdays.
    • Saturday service will start at 9 a.m. on all routes, (except Route 9, which does not run on Saturday), and go until:
      • 11 p.m. on Routes 1 & 2;
      • 10 p.m. on Routes 6 & 7;
      • 8 p.m. on all remaining routes.
  2. Add Sunday service on all Routes (except Routes 8 & 9) starting at 9 a.m. until:
    • 9 p.m. on Routes 1, 2, 6 &7.
    • 8 p.m. on all other Routes.
  3. Extend weekday service to begin at 6 a.m. for all routes (except Route 9) and run until:
    • 11 p.m. on Routes 1 & 2.
    • 10 p.m. on Routes 6 & 7.
    • 9 p.m. on Routes 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12 and 14.
  4. Increase bus frequency:
    • Expand Route 4 weekday service from peak-only, to all-day service.
    • Increase frequency on Routes 1 & 2 to 30 minutes from 6 a.m. – 7 a.m. and from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
  5.  Expand days and hours for curb-to-curb service for seniors and people with disabilities.
How much will the mill levy increase cost homeowners?

The mill levy will increase by 20 mills and raise $3 million. The annual cost in property taxes will be approximately $27 on a home valued at $100,000; $54 on a $200,000 home; and $81 on a home valued at $300,000.

If the mill levy increase is approved, when will I see the increase show up on my tax bill?

If the mill levy increase is approved, you will see the increase to your tax bill in November 2021. This will allow the agency to implement the new service improvements in January 2022.

How many times has Mountain Line placed a mill levy increase on the ballot?

In 1976, Missoula voters created MUTD for the purpose of operating Mountain Line, which opened its doors in December of 1977. Since it was founded, MUTD has placed only one mill levy increase on the ballot, in the 2013 election. Voters approved the previous mill levy increase to add an additional high-frequency BOLT! route, late-evening service on select routes and to improve services for seniors and those with disabilities.

How does Mountain Line benefit the entire community, even those who do not ride the bus?

Community Health: Mountain Line benefits the entire community by reducing the number of car trips, which helps reduce traffic and parking congestion and improves air quality throughout the Missoula Valley. Mountain Line recognizes the importance of clean air for a healthy community and has committed to a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035, with six electric buses already on the road. Cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint benefits us all.

Community Equity: Mountain Line provides service at zero-fare, ensuring all Missoulians have access to safe, reliable transportation. By helping employees get to work, students get to school, and keeping seniors and those with disabilities active and mobile, Mountain Line is promoting a more equitable, healthier community – which benefits us all.

What are the special services Mountain Line provides for seniors and folks with disabilities?

In addition to operating a 100 percent ADA accessible fixed-route bus service, Mountain Line also operates special  origin to destination service for people with disabilities who are unable to use the fixed-route bus service, as well as dedicated curb-to-curb service for seniors. These essential services ensure all residents in the District have safe, reliable transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, and other important trips.

Does Missoula really have the demand to warrant an increase in bus service?

Mountain Line has seen an almost 70 percent increase in ridership since it debuted its Zero-Fare program in 2015. For the past five years, Mountain Line has averaged 1.5 million rides annually. The agency has seen a similar increase in demand for Mountain Line’s specialized transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities, with trends indicating demand for this special service will continue to rise at a rapid rate.

Mountain Line has repeatedly heard from the community that we need full bus service on weekends and later evening service. This mill levy increase will fund these public requests while enhancing Mountain Line’s Zero-Fare program to keep pace with increasing service demands.

Recently, Mountain Line has had to reduce service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Does it really think now is the time to expand?

Even during the height of the COVID-19 shutdown in Missoula, Mountain Line continued to provide essential service to frontline workers and essential personnel, including doctors, nurses and grocery store employees.

Mountain Line was a leader in the state of Montana by requiring mandatory masking on board its vehicles in May 2020, two months ahead of other mandatory masking ordinances. It also reacted swiftly to adapt all CDC-recommended guidelines for guarding against the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, blocking off physical distancing zones behind operators, implementing rear door boarding and sanitizing vehicles multiple times daily. As of the writing of this document in August 2020, Mountain Line has not had a single positive COVID-19 case associated with its staff or riders.

What role does Mountain Line play in the development of the city?

A zero-fare, easy-to-use public transit system is vital to a robust economy and a prosperous community. Public transportation ensures employees can get to work, students to school and customers can get to local businesses. When companies look to expand or relocate, their lists of wants often include quality public transportation. Analysts state that every $1 invested in public transportation yields $5 of economic return to the community.

Furthermore, Mountain Line generates approximately 75 jobs in Western Montana.

How much does it cost to ride Mountain Line?

Mountain Line provides service at zero-fare! This means everyone — regardless of income or wealth – has access to affordable, reliable transportation. Ensuring zero-fare, accessible transportation is available to everyone in MUTD promotes equity and provides equal access to work, school and essential services, which benefits our entire community.

How will this mill levy increase enhance the Zero-Fare program?

The Zero-Fare program has been a resounding success, increasing ridership almost 70 percent since its debut. This fantastic increase in ridership necessitates an increase in services, and revenue to cover those services. The mill levy increase will enhance the Zero-Fare program by helping to fund increased services for a growing ridership.

How will this support the conversion of Mountain Line’s fleet to all electric vehicles?

An increase in local funding helps make Mountain Line more competitive for the state and federal grants used to purchase new electric buses. State and federal agencies value community support when distributing funds. Mountain Line’s commitment to moving Missoula forward with a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035 that benefits us all.

Who will be able to vote on the mill levy that is required to maintain and improve Mountain Line services?

According to the Missoula County Election Office, all residents registered to vote who live within the MUTD are eligible to vote on the MUTD referendum. The ballots will be mailed out to registered voters on October 9th.