Early summer update

UPDATE: Rimrock succeeded at getting a conditional FMCSA rating change but made a business decision not to return to service due to a changing market in Montana. Currently Jefferson Lines is serving I-90 and the Salish Kootenai Tribe is serving US 93. MDT is in discussion with a carrier to return service to I-15.

ORIGINAL POST: While Salt Lake Express and Jefferson Lines have been providing services to Montanans, North Dakotans, and people traveling to or through these states, Rimrock has been busy at work as well. Last week I heard that FMCSA has granted a conditional rating change, and Rimrock is setting a plan to return to operation. In summary, here is the latest publicly available information:

  • Pending FMCSA approval, Rimrock intends to reinstate their services between Missoula and Billings, three round trips per day. Two of those trips will go through Butte, one through Helena. These services are currently operated by Salt Lake Express and Jefferson Lines.
  • Rimrock also hopes to re-establish their route on I-15 from Great Falls to Butte. This is currently operated by Salt Lake Express, and will take longer to return to Rimrock operation than the I-90 route.
  • There is an interested party for operating the intercity route from Missoula to Kalispell, and they have started taking some steps in that direction. I’m not sure where they stand on their decision making process.
  • Montana DOT Transit Section has grant funds available starting with the new state fiscal year, July 1. They are using the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) 5311(f) rural intercity bus program, a program that has been in place since 1991. This program can fund the net operating deficit for intercity bus routes. Operators must meet the requirements of FMCSA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 5311(f) program. This program has the potential to build effective, coordinated connections between Montana and North Dakota communities.

Want to learn more about intercity bus transportation? Here you go…

Definition of Intercity Transportation

Intercity bus services are generally considered to provide long-distance travel and offer passengers the ability to travel with luggage.  Effective intercity transportation services connect with other local and intercity transportation services to provide passengers access to destinations throughout the state, nation, and continent.  The network of interconnecting transportation services includes non-subsidized services such as Greyhound and I-90 between Missoula and Billings, as well as transportation services funded in part through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 5311(f) Rural Intercity Program and other publicly-funded sources.

Intercity bus transportation is part of the nation’s overall surface transportation network and holds particular importance for otherwise isolated small urban communities and rural areas. In such areas, intercity buses provide links among smaller communities within a region and, importantly, to larger urban areas that offer services and opportunities not available in the less-populated regions of the country.  In many of these areas, air or passenger rail travel options may not be available, or may be cost-prohibitive.

As major intercity carriers have abandoned less productive routes, FTA has made available funds to support the connection between these rural areas and the larger regional or national system of intercity bus service.

Section 5311(f) Program History

In 1991, federal funding became available for intercity bus service in rural areas through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 5311(f) program.  Recognizing the importance rural area transit and the financial struggles faced by the transit industry following deregulation in 1982, Congress included federal funding for rural intercity bus service in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and continued the funding in subsequent transportation authorizations.  This change in policy made intercity bus service one facet of a larger effort to maintain and improve rural public transit.

5311(f) funds are allowable for intercity routes that are not profitable. A goal of a successful program is to increase ridership and revenue on funded routes, resulting in reduced funding on a specific route and addition of routes over time.

Entities eligible to apply for Intercity Bus funds include local governmental agencies, private nonprofit organizations, Native American Nations on federal reservations, operators of public transportation services and private for-profit operators of transit services.

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