Since Mountain Line’s Zero-fare program began in January 2015, there’s been a familiar story coming out of the city’s community bus service – ridership is on the rise thanks to this popular program. With Zero-fare renewed for at least another 3 years, today the agency launched their “40 for 40” campaign: an effort to expand the Zero-fare coalition to 40 members in honor of Mountain Line’s 40th anniversary of service on December 12, 2017.
“More riders mean more benefits for our entire community,” Andrea Davis, Board Chair of Missoula Urban Transportation District (MUTD) and Mountain Line told a group of transit advocates and potential partners. “It means more employees getting to work, more students getting to school, and more seniors staying active, mobile, and independent. It means better air quality and less traffic and parking congestion as our city continues to grow.”
Mountain Line’s three-year Zero-fare demonstration project began January 5, 2015, and the result has been a 70 percent uptick transit ridership, a remarkable rate in an industry accustomed to incremental growth. In 2014, city buses carried a little more than 900,000 passengers and collected $470,000 in fare income. In 2016 they hauled more than 1.5 million. The pilot program is funded by a unique partnership between Mountain Line, local government and community businesses and organizations. A 2013 voter-approved mill levy simultaneously allowed the transit system to add late evening service and a second high-frequency route to its offerings. Now bus officials hope to see the community and new potential partners continue to support the system.
Amidst the optimism, Davis also cautioned that with that growth comes increased strain on resources. Buses are running full more and operators are working harder, and to ensure the program’s continued success it needs to keep growing. She reminded those in attendance that the program benefits riders and the partners alike and Tim Winger, General Manager of Southgate Mall, one of the current 15 partners agreed.
The Zero-fare program is a win-win situation for us and for the riders themselves,” Winger said. “It means more people visiting our businesses with a little more money in their pockets, and it also makes us feel great to know the positive impact we’re having on the community and hear all the great stories of riders whose lives have changed for the better.”
Rider Erin Steele is one of those riders who loves the Zero-fare program. An employee at Missoula United Way, Steele utilizes the service frequently and also sees the effect its having on the community.
“Zero-fare makes it possible for me to get my 8-year old down to the library for a fun afternoon of reading or to Dragon’s Hollow to play,” Steele remarked. “I’m just one person, but there are so many others who have seen their lives change for the better.”
Mountain Line’s current Zero-fare partners include the University of Montana, Associated Students of the University of Montana, City of Missoula, County of Missoula, the Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization, St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Missoula County Public Schools, Missoula Aging Services, Missoula Downtown Association, Missoula Parking Commission, the Missoulian, Southgate Mall, Homeword, Inc., and newest member Destination Missoula.
Businesses or organizations interested in joining the Zero-fare coalition can contact Mountain Line Community Outreach Coordinator Bill Pfeiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Mountain Line’s website at www.mountainline.com.