Mountain Line to start zero-fare bus system in January


MISSOULA, Mont. - The Missoula Urban Transportation District announced on Tuesday that Mountain Line will operate on a zero-fare bus system.

It will last for three years as a demonstration project.

Each year, the project costs about $460,000. Thirteen community partners came together to contribute the money.

The University of Montana was one of them with a contribution of $205,000.

You can put that dollar back in your pocket and hop on the bus for free.

"You already have people who ride the bus who are worried about, you know, do they have time on their ticket to get home, to work and from work in the morning. Now they can just ride the bus whenever they want to without having to worry about any of that," said Eric Hines, board chairman with the Missoula Urban Transportation District.

While Hines is excited, Missoula resident Dick Haines isn't too thrilled with the idea. "Every year, taxes have increased," said Haines.

The city of Missoula will be paying $100,000 of that with taxpayer money through the general fund.

"The passengers may not be paying anything but somebody has to pay to run that bus," said Haines.

Missoula Mayor John Engen estimates it will cost taxpayers less than a dollar a year and that it will come with additional benefits.

Mountain Line's General Manager Michael Tree tells NBC Montana he's seen the zero-fare bus system work in other cities like Corvallis, Oregon, and says it increased ridership.

"I anticipate that really, within the first 90 days, we'll meet the goal of increasing ridership of 45 percent," said Tree.

Corvallis has been doing the Zero-Fare system since 2011. In 2008, ridership was 55,457 and this past July it was 78,000.

"It gets cars off of the road, so there's less congestion, there's less pollution in the air," said Hines.

The project will start on January 5 and run until 2017.

To add to the project starting in January, Mountain Line will be kicking off their new late evening service too. Click here to learn more.

Mountain Line says they serve just under 1 million bus riders each year. Through this project, they expect ridership to increase by 45 percent which would be about 1.4 million riders by the end of three years.

The 13 partners that contributed are: University of Montana, the Associated Students of the University of Montana, Missoula's Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City of Missoula, the County of Missoula, the City Parking Commission, Missoula County Public Schools, St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, the Missoula Downtown Association, Southgate Mall, Missoula Aging Services and Homeword Inc.