Loss of Intercity Service and Connections

UPDATE: Helena and Great Falls lost service, but one round trip per day should be reinstated in February 2014. As of February 14, 2014 U.S. 93 has one round trip per day.

ORIGINAL POST: We got some bad news last week when Rimrock told the Montana Department of Transportation they would not return to the intercity business. Couple this with Salt Lake Express cutbacks in early July, and intercity travel in Montana is pretty bad with no obvious path back to normal.

Bad Connections – loss of service has lead to broken connections. Layovers in Butte are as follows:

  • Missoula to Helena–5 hr 40 min
  • Great Falls-Helena-Billings–7 hr 35 min
  • Salt Lake City-Idaho Falls-Dillon-Billings–10 hr 10 min in am, 8hr 40min  in pm.

Summary of services – The level of service in Montana today is about 50% to 60% what was available prior to Rimrock’s March shutdown. Services are listed below.

I-90 Missoula to Billings

  • Jefferson Lines (JLI) operates 2 round trips per day with stops in Butte, Bozeman, and Livingston
  • Salt Lake Express (SLE) cancelled the third round trip, which went through Helena
  • No on-call stops in Laurel, Columbus, Big Timber, Belgrade, Livingston, Three Forks, Whitehall and Deer Lodge

I-15 Great Falls to Butte and Butte to Idaho Falls

  • SLE service between Great Falls, Helena, and Butte cut to one round trip per day
  • Two round trips per day from Butte to points south

US 93 from Missoula to Whitefish

  • No interlined service
  • Confederated Salish Kootenai Transit has applied for an FMCSA license and is investigating the feasibility of providing intercity service

Articles

Some of this has not yet been published in the newspapers. The most recent article is available at the Billings Gazette

Rimrock Stages may not resume all of its routes – Billings Gazette July 14, 2013

What’s Next

Different players are talking to look for ways around the barriers. The loss of service is not due to lack of demand. Rather it’s the result of business decisions to focus on the most profitable routes, the difficulty of serving a large remote geography, and the challenge of having an adequate fleet and staff to meet federal regulations (FMCSA safety requirements, Americans with Disabilities requirements for accessibility, and federal procurement rules as administered by each state).

Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is talking with the private and public carriers to find a way to restore service with help from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 5311(f) rural intercity bus program. For this to happen the carriers will need to conclude that the administrative expense and risk of working with another governmental entity (MDT) is worth the benefit.  The carriers will also need to conclude that serving a rural area far from home base is a good business decision when they have higher revenue potential closer to home.

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