Bolt Missoula: You Want me to Drive to Campus?!

The University of Montana and the City of Missoula have a symbiotic relationship.  One is the ying to the others yang.  They just don’t function without each other.  With 14,000 students and and another 3,000 faculty and staff as well as visitors traveling to campus every day, UM is one of the most popular spots in Western Montana.  With all of these people congregating in one square mile on a daily basis, mitigating traffic and parking logistics can only be described as a logistical nightmare.

Main Hall at the University of Montana

It would be physically impossible for every single person on campus to drive themselves.  There simply is not enough space for all the cars to park.  Not to mention building a parking garage to accommodate even just 500 vehicles would cost upwards of $12 million.  Many folks who have been around Missoula for a while remember that students would often park on the oval and in the grassy fields around campus because they had no other options.  Fortunately today is very different thanks in large part to Mountain Line and our partners at UM and throughout the community.  Mountain Line and UDash (The student run transit system) run rapid transit through this part of town so that folks don’t have to drive their cars to get to campus.  Over the past 10 to 15 years we have been very successful in reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles traveling to campus, and increasing the number of transit and bicycle rides to campus.  These programs have been so successful, many students at UM simply don’t have vehicles.

This trend of millennials throwing out the keys and skipping the car altogether is happening nationwide, not just in Missoula.  Young people don’t want to be burdened by the costs and inconvenience of driving.  AAA estimates it costs more than $10,000 per year to own a vehicle when you account for gas, insurance, maintenance etc. which is more than the cost of in state tuition.  This generation is more open minded to transportation options that maximize their travel efficiency.

In addition to working for Mountain Line, I take classes at the University and consider it a huge inconvenience to have to deal with my car being on campus.  I have to drive around and duke it out with other drivers in order to find a place to park.  Then once I do that, I have to pay a dollar per hour just for my car sit there. Once I finally get to leave, I have to navigate all the other traffic on the road trying to get away from campus.  I think I speak for many of us when I say nothing ruins my afternoon quite like someone driving like a maniac down the road.

Our mascot Bolt! and me celebrating 35 years of Mountain Line last spring on campus

In order to avoid this disaster, I typically take Bolt! on Mountain Line’s Route 1 which I find much more convenient.  While riding the bus, I have free WiFi so I can get work done, and I get dropped off right on campus.  The best part for me though is the ability to see friends and colleagues on the bus.  It gives me a chance during the day to chat with the people I know on Mountain Line and that can be a huge breath of fresh air during my hectic day.

For students, having a reliable means of transportation that connects campus, downtown, and places of employment is key to being successful.  Many students work upwards of 20-30 hours a week on top of going to school. Without Mountain Line, many would be unsuccessful.  Missoula has seen massive amounts of students that are riding the bus not just to campus, but all over town.  In March of this year alone, Mountain Line gave rides to 25,413 griz card holders.  That same month 63% or 16,120 of those rides were on one of the three routes that serve campus.  That means that students and millennials are riding the bus for work, play and shopping- not just to get to and from school.

University of Montana students and millennials as a generation understand that driving is one of the least efficient and most expensive and stressful ways to travel.  These habits and preferences will continue as this generation gets older.  That is why it is up to our community and our leaders to make it as convenient and affordable for people to ride the bus.  By doing this, we can make our community and University a more healthy happy place with a transit provider that really does benefit us all.