APTA Award

Mountain Line Introduces New Electric Buses into Service, Expects Four More By Year End

For Immediate Release: August 26, 2021

MISSOULA – Next week, two new battery-electric buses will take to the streets as the latest additions to Mountain Line’s rapidly growing fleet of zero-tailpipe-emissions buses. These buses, in addition to four more on the way, will bring Mountain Line’s fixed-route fleet to over 40% electric by year end.

Mountain Line was an early adopter of the new battery-electric technology in the U.S., debuting its first electric buses in the summer of 2019.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last two years about charging infrastructure, battery capacity in cold weather, and the mechanics of maintaining an electric fleet,” said Mountain Line Projects and Planning Manager, Vince Caristo, who has authored a series of successful grants to purchase electric buses. “The most important thing we learned, though, is that we have a viable way forward to transition our entire fleet to zero-emissions technology in the coming years.”

Following the successful launch of the first six electric buses, the Missoula Urban Transportation District (MUTD) board of directors, the governing body of Mountain Line, committed to a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035, citing goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting Missoula’s fragile air quality.

“Despite improvements over the past decade, air quality remains a serious issue in Missoula, especially during winter inversions and summer wildfire season,” said Amy Cilimburg, MUTD board member and executive director of Climate Smart Missoula. “We’re committed to moving Missoula forward sustainably to improve public health, keep our air clean and lower our carbon footprint to benefit all Missoulians.”

The vision for cleaner air in the Missoula valley resonated with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which awarded Mountain Line a $1 million grant in December 2019 to purchase the two GILLIG-manufactured electric buses entering service next week.

“DEQ is proud to partner with Mountain Line to cut emissions and drive energy innovation with these new electric buses,” said Sonja Nowakowski, administrator of DEQ’s Air, Energy & Mining Division. “By reducing nitrogen oxide emissions, projects like this create healthier air in Montana communities.”

Mountain Line’s electric buses consume less energy per mile than buses using other common propulsion technologies, such as gasoline, diesel and natural gas engines.

“Operating battery-electric buses instead of comparable modern fossil-fuel buses will reduce the amount of energy that Mountain Line uses each year by 3.5 terajoules,” Caristo said. “That energy is equivalent to 58 years worth of gas for the average American car driver every year.”

Deploying zero-tailpipe-emission buses in place of its existing vehicles will also reduce Mountain Line’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 252 tons and prevent the release of 7.6 pounds of particulate matter from entering the Missoula airshed annually.

“To quantify these positive benefits another way, this reduction in emissions and particulate matter results in a social cost saving of $13,000 each year,” said Caristo. “Our transition to an electric fleet benefits all Missoulians by protecting our air quality for a healthier community.”

Progress toward an entire fleet conversion is in full swing. This June, the Federal Transit Administration Low or No Emissions Vehicle Program awarded the agency a $3.6 million grant to purchase additional electric buses, thanks to the bipartisan support of Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester.

This grant will allow Mountain Line to purchase four more electric buses and charging infrastructure, which will bring Mountain Line’s fleet to 57% electric when they arrive in 2023. The grant will also allow the agency to lead a comparative study of electric bus technologies that will inform other transit agencies hoping to make the transition to electric.  

Mountain Line will have one of the new electric GILLIGs available for the public to tour this Friday at River City Roots Festival and Saturday during Family Fun Fest in Caras Park.


Mountain Line was named the top public transit agency in North America in its size in 2021, earning the American Public Transportation Association Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award. The agency also won the Montana Transit Association statewide safety award in 2021. Committed to a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035, Mountain Line has a long-standing commitment to clean air, public health and a more sustainable future. Since becoming a zero-fare system in 2015, ridership has increased nearly 70 percent. During normal times, Mountain Line provides more than 1.5 million rides annually, helping students get to school, employees get to work, and seniors and those living with disabilities stay active, mobile and independent. By reducing the number of single vehicles on the road, lessening traffic congestion and investing in electric buses, Mountain Line benefits us all.   

Celebrating (Yes, Celebrating) 2020

While this year was anything but “business as usual,” we at Mountain Line decided to see the disruption caused by COVID-19 as an opportunity to reimagine how we serve Missoula

We accomplished so much in 2020 and are proud of the resilience and unending dedication of our team. Here are our highlights from the year.

COVID-19: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Even during the height of the shutdown in Missoula, we continued to operate. Our employees showed up each day to provide essential service, helping frontline workers get to work and riders access the grocery store, doctor’s office and other essential services.

We are grateful to our team and our community for their support and recognizing the importance of reliable, accessible transportation in keeping our community running. And we remain committed to keeping our operators and riders as safe as possible, every day.

Learn more about our commitments to safety here.

In addition to never shutting down, we found new ways to serve and connect our community.

We partnered with the American Cancer Society and our local hospitals to provide safe transportation to cancer treatment patients in Missoula.

During the height of the shutdown, we turned electric buses into community Wi-Fi hotspots for those needing reliable internet access to attend school, navigate unemployment, or simply connect with their loved ones.

We also organized a five-week-long livestream concert series, inviting local musicians to perform on our electric bus while streaming the show to thousands. We partnered with over a dozen local businesses to sponsor individual artists, ensuring our musicians were compensated while keeping the concerts free to the public. Ultimately, our concert series benefited 15 local musicians and engaged over 7,500 viewers. It also led to Mountain Line receiving the Arts Missoula Star award in September, for its support of local artists.

You can watch all of our summer concerts on our YouTube Channel.

Sustainability: A Banner Year For Mountain Line

In 2020, we took our commitment to sustainability to the next level by committing to a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035.

We already have six electric buses on the road and six more on the way. When our new buses arrive, we’ll be 40 percent all electric! This milestone distinguishes Mountain Line as a leader in clean public transportation in the United States.

The purchase of these six new electric vehicles was made possible by $4.6 million in federal and state grants awarded to Mountain Line in May 2020. We were the first agency in Montana to receive funding from the Volkswagen Environmental Trust Settlement, via a $1 million grant awarded by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. We also successfully competed for a $3.6 million Low- or No- Emissions grant through the Federal Transit Administration.

Learn more about our commitment to sustainability.

Moving Missoula Forward: Improving Service to Benefit Us All

In the spring of 2020, we kicked off our Bus Stop Improvement Project. This is one of the largest projects our agency has ever undertaken and will impact EVERY single bus stop along Mountain Line’s 12 fixed routes. 

The project is focused on three goals:

  • Improve safety.
  • Increase accessibility.
  • Maximize efficiency.

By the numbers, this project will:

Construction is still underway and is expected to conclude in summer 2021.

In addition to launching external improvements, we turned our attention inward this year, working as an agency to improve our internal practices. We formed our first Diversity and Inclusion Committee and formalized our commitment to creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment for our employees, riders and community.

Finally, (and this is a big one), we received overwhelming support from voters to expand our zero-fare service later into the evening and, for the first time ever, on Sundays! Our successful mill levy request will usher in a new era of service for Mountain Line. We’re currently in the process of expanding our team (we’re hiring!), with a plan to debut voter-approved service expansions in early 2022.

Stay updated on mill levy expansions here. We’ll have more details posted in January 2021.

Thank you for an amazing year, despite the challenges. We are honored to be part of this community and look forward to serving you in 2021.