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Missoula’s Mountain Line facing growing pains

Mountain Line Passengers
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 11:15:03-05

Despite fewer riders during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's become evident just how critical public transit is for those who rely on it and Mountain Line is making plans to expand.

They know the key to Missoula's transit district's growth, but they can’t unlock the solution to their problems just yet.

It doesn’t cost a dime to take a Mountain Line bus, it eliminates some of that traffic congestion in town, and it improves air quality. During these tense times, taking a backseat can be a relief for you and your community -- just ask a regular rider.

Mountain Line Passenger
Chandious Ragsdale has been a regular Mountain Line bus passenger for several years.

“I don't like driving that much. you know, especially nowadays, I mean, there's a lot of people out there that don't even watch where they're going or they're on their cell phone,” said Chandious Ragsdale.

A lifelong Missoulian, she’s been boarding the bus since they first came to town. She’s one of the thousands who utilize Missoula’s public transit each week and from her seat aboard the bus, she watches Missoula change and grow — right out the window.

It’s the growth out that has people drawing up plans for the future of Mountain Line. Whether those plans will come to fruition is a matter of space, staffing, and seizing the moment.

Mountain. Line Bus Stop
Mountain Line is looking to make changes to accommodate the transit system's continued growth.

“There's a real sense of urgency for us to keep up and take advantage of new federal funding that would just pass through the infrastructure bill,” noted Mountain Line spokesperson Shanti Johnson.

A new facility isn’t a want, but a serious need, according to Johnson.

“This bus barn is full to the brim. We have buses parked behind our bus barn and we have them parked in the middle of the road at night because we will have literally no more space to store them.”

Mountain Line Bus Barn
One area Mountain Line is looking to address is finding a new bus barn.

But to secure funding, the land must be acquired first; eight to 10 acres of land to be exact. Mountain Line needs a space large enough to house a growing fleet including electric buses that require nearby charging stations.

“To find a large piece of land in the dense urban area is really challenging and the farther away we get from the center of our service area, the more it costs us,” Johnson told MTN News.

Mountain Line Passengers
Passengers board a Mountain Line Bus at the Downtown Transfer Station

But even more crucial than the facility and the buses it houses are bus operators for the 1.5 million rides Mountain Line will offer throughout the year.

In connecting people to the places they need to go, Mountain Line can keep folks like Ragsdale connected to her hometown.

"You know I like riding buses and meeting different people and yeah, I think it's pretty fun,” Ragsdale concluded.