Mountain Line operates a zero-fare system, meaning you do not have to pay to ride. Since the debut of the Zero-Fare Program 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.
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. In short, a robust Mountain Line helps keep Missoula a more livable and prosperous community for everyone.
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 one dollar per trip were now free to all riders. At the same time, the agency implemented Phase II 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.
Zero-Fare and Phase II service increases have been a resounding success. The ridership gains achieved through the Zero-Fare program have also been essential to securing millions of dollars in federal grants leading to the purchase of 12 electric buses and bus stop improvements for the Missoula community. Without the increase in ridership we’ve seen through the Zero-Fare program, Mountain Line would likely not have been as competitive in receiving coveted Bus and Bus Facilities grant funding to actualize our Bus Stop Improvement Project.
Zero-Fare has also increased our efficiency, due to the lack of onboard fare collections and associated administrative costs, leading to better use of transit dollars.
This program has also helped Mountain Line adapt faster to CDC recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the program reduces rider-operator contact.
“I have a nice, warm ride on days like today when the temps are below zero. I don’t have to scrape my car or find parking downtown. The commute gives me time to and from work to get my mind set for the day and to relax on the way home. I am so thankful for the kindness of the funding partners. I have bus friends and enjoy the commute.”Bobbi Day
“Many thanks for making zero-fare buses possible. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve appreciated that clients can come for appointments even if they have no vehicle, or if their vehicle is broken down. As a citizen, mother and grandmother, I am extremely grateful for the reduction in carbon emissions that this brings to our community and our planet!”Janet R. Allison, Ph.D.
“I love seeing all the folks on the bus now. That’s one of the nice things about riding the bus—seeing folks you know, and folks you don’t. It feels like a big neighborhood. Thanks so much for the zero-fare bus. I really enjoy the freedom of being able to jump on a bus anytime, not worrying about whether I have the correct change. Especially on these frigid mornings!”Patricia A. Hogan
“Being able to get to services around the community is essential. Having a reliable source of no-cost transportation is not only a convenience, it is also the best service option available to maintain and move ahead in health, work and social life. It is such a keystone community need, and Missoula is very fortunate to have not only an up-to-date public transportation system, but a zero-fare transportation system! As someone with mobility limitations, it is the difference between having the option to get someplace I need to go, or not.”Caroline