Salt Lake Express restoring Montana bus routes; companies working together to restore service to six of Montana’s seven largest cities

Here is the press release regarding SLE’s new services.

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Yesterday April 4th Salt Lake Express (SLE) began running two roundtrip routes a day from Billings to Missoula; one of these schedules will service Helena with the other connecting through Butte. Starting April 15th, the Rexburg, Idaho based business will begin offering bus service in and out of Great Falls twice a day with one shuttle going to Helena and the other passing through Helena and connecting on to Butte. Great Falls and Helena have been without intercity bus service since March 22, when Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) inspectors shut down the Billings-based Rimrock Stages bus fleet.

“We are thrilled to be able to help out in the interim covering several of the routes previously serviced by Rimrock Stages,” said Jacob Price, Operations Manager at Salt Lake Express (SLE). “SLE believes Rimrock Stages may resume operations in the future. If this occurs, these lines will be picked up again by Rimrock.” Price says SLE will be hiring 10 to 15 local Montana drivers to cover these routes. All ticket agency and boarding locations will remain at the same locations that have served Rimrock Stages.

SLE and Minnesota-based Jefferson Lines are working together to restore service to six of Montana’s seven largest cities. They have been assisted by Lisa Ballard of the Missoula-based transit consulting company Current Transportation Solutions, who has been volunteering her time to act as a central point of contact and facilitator for the parties involved. Ballard said that Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are also working hard to seek solutions.

On Saturday, March 30 Jefferson Lines began one round trip from Billings through Butte to Missoula and extended its Glendive run from Fargo on into Billings. In combination, Salt Lake Express and Jefferson have been able to restore most of Montana and North Dakota intercity bus service to previous levels. US 93 from Missoula to Kalispell, and I-94 between Glendive and Bismarck remain without service. This restored service allows daytime bus travel to many Montana destinations, and removes 12-hour layovers for cross country travelers.

“As a progressive business with great customer service we feel privileged to be able to help passengers by making national connections through our main express routes between Montana and Salt Lake City,” said Price.

All SLE’s schedules are programmed to link with Greyhound, Arrow Stages and Jefferson Lines. Salt Lake Express currently provides a bus connection from Southeastern Idaho to Butte, Montana and Salt Lake Valley in Utah. They also serve West Yellowstone, Pocatello, Boise and the Cache Valley in Utah. By April 21st, their express routes will service Moab, UT and Richfield, UT.

Current Transportation Solutions has been involved because the company has worked closely with Rimrock Stages, gaining a detailed knowledge of the Montana bus service through development of a 2011 transit plan completed under contract with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). Current Transportation Solutions has also created a temporary website with updates and information about the situation:https://mtndintercity.wordpress.com/

This morning Salt Lake Express started service between Missoula, Helena, Butte, Bozeman, and Billings

This morning around 8:45 am a bus left Billings to head west towards Bozeman. At 11:15 am another bus headed east from Missoula. They will meet around 1:00 pm in Helena and continue on to complete the first Salt Lake Express (SLE) east-west Montana run. Their second run will begin around 1:45 pm in Billings and 4:00 pm in Missoula and meet in Butte around 6:00 pm. Along with Jefferson Lines’ Missoula to Billings service, this corridor is back to the level of service it had before.

Yesterday Salt Lake Express announced it will pick up Rimrock’s scheduled runs between Great Falls and Butte starting April 15. Their General Manager, Jacob Price, told me, “We are thrilled to be able to help out in the interim covering several of the routes previously serviced by Rimrock.”

Still no information on Missoula to Whitefish and I-94 from Billings to Bismarck.

New services are fairly close to the Rimrock timetables (yes I know bus timetables are nearly impossible to understand). I think SLE is running the same schedule as shown in the Missoula-Billings and Great Falls-Helena-Butte table. Jefferson is running at the same general time but has had to shift schedules a little.  Anyone wanting to book a ride should visit their local ticket agent. They have the most accurate, up-to-date information.

Articles about service restoration

These are some but not all of the articles.

“Waiting for the Bus” , Missoula Independent, April 4

“Jefferson Lines extends bus services”, Sidney Herald, April 2

“Bus Line Needed Between Missoula, Whitefish”, ABC Fox Montana, April 1

“Limited bus service on Rimrock Stages routes starting again”, Billings Gazette, March 29

Companies step up to return bus service to Montana” KBZK April 1

Tickets can be purchased at the bus depot

Good to know you can buy your ticket at the bus depot prior to boarding the bus. What’s more, these local guys can book you onto any bus in the country that is part of the interlined network. They are not restricted to selling for one company or another.

I’ve heard that the local agents have gone above and beyond this week and deserve a big thank you. Many of them are independent contractors.

Information about Jefferson Lines new route connecting Billings to Missoula

Here is the press release from Jefferson Lines

Jefferson Lines Expands Montana Service

 Billings, MT – On Saturday, March 30th, Jefferson Lines Bus Company will launch new routes connecting Billings and Missoula, Montana. Jefferson will also be extending its Glendive run from Fargo on into Billings. The routes will include daily service in either direction between the two cities, and will facilitate Jefferson Lines adding bus service to several other Montana communities, including Livingston, Bozeman, and Butte.  “We are excited to extend Jefferson Lines’ trademark comfortable ride and quality customer service to these communities,” said Kevin Pursey, Jefferson Lines Director of Marketing and Culture. “This is going to be a real benefit to passengers in the northwest states of Washington, Idaho and Wyoming as well as those passengers going east to North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and on into Chicago.”

From the new service areas in Montana, Jefferson Lines will continue to connect with existing intercity bus networks like Greyhound and Arrow Stage Lines. This will make it more convenient for passengers to travel the area and points beyond.

Jefferson Lines is a family-owned company founded in 1919 that is currently being run by the third generation to actively manage the business. The company is a member of the American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, National Tour Association and many other local visitor associations and chambers of commerce.

Schedule and fare information is available at www.jeffersonlines.com or call toll free 800-451-5333.

About Jefferson Lines

Founded in 1919 in Minneapolis, Jefferson has maintained its position as a leader in providing transportation throughout the Midwest. Jefferson Lines provides intercity bus service to thirteen states, serving more than 160 communities nationwide. Jefferson Lines provides direct connections to thousands of destinations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Montana Bus Service Being Restored, Minnesota and Idaho companies plan to fill gap in national system

With passengers facing detours over 600 miles and bus companies in neighboring states facing financial losses, multiple parties have been scrambling to restore Montana bus service since last Friday when Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) inspectors shut down the Billings-based Rimrock Stages bus fleet. Limited service on I-90 is resuming tomorrow, and additional runs are likely to be reestablished next week, much sooner than many had expected thanks to a Missoula-based transportation consulting firm that volunteered to step in to help coordinate and expedite the process.

Jefferson Lines, a Minnesota-based company will begin running one round trip from Billings through Butte to Missoula starting on March 30th. Jefferson will also be extending its Glendive run from Fargo on into Billings. As early as next Friday, Salt Lake Express, based in Rexburg, Idaho, hopes to start two additional round trips between Billings and Missoula that Rimrock Stages has been operating. One of the trips will go through Helena.

The reopening of the I-90 route will reconnect the Montana link in the bus service network for the nation’s northern tier. Since the shutdown, a rider planning to travel between Spokane and Minneapolis would have been forced to detour through Salt Lake City and Denver. While this would be a minor inconvenience for a plane traveler, bus passengers faced greatly increased travel times. Moreover, riders in Montana communities with no alternative connections like Great Falls, Helena, and Bozeman were completely stranded.

The different players are looking at the logistics of reestablishing connections for Rimrock Stages’ other routes, including Great Falls-Helena-Butte, Whitefish-Kalispell-Missoula, and Billings-Dickinson-Bismark-Fargo.  It appears that most, if not all, of Rimrock Stages’ intercity routes could be reestablished and Montana communities could experience no reduction in service frequency or coverage.  The Whitefish-Kalispell-Missoula route will likely be the most difficult to reestablish.

Since last weekend, Lisa Ballard of Current Transportation Solutions has volunteered her time to act as a central point of contact and facilitator for the parties involved. Ballard’s Missoula-based transportation consulting company has worked closely with Rimrock Stages, gaining a detailed knowledge of the Montana bus service through development of a 2011 transit plan completed under contract with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). At Rimrock’s request, Ballard has provided Jefferson Lines and Salt Lake Express with a list of Rimrock’s bus drivers so that the new operators can choose to hire experienced Montana drivers who know the routes. Current Transportation Solutions has also created a temporary website with updates and information about the situation: https://mtndintercity.wordpress.com/

Ballard said that both MDT and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are also working hard to seek solutions.

”I’ve been working in transit for a long time and I know firsthand that many riders depend on bus service and have no alternatives,” said Ballard. “In the last week I’ve heard a lot of stories about the hardship this shutdown is causing and that’s what motivates me to help.”

Optimistic about reinstating service between Missoula and Billings, transcontinental coverage

It looks promising that we will be able to reinstate services between Missoula and Billings within a week. With tweaks to some other routes, this will enable travel across the country. Getting services going on US 93 between Missoula and Whitefish; I-15 between Butte and Great Falls, and I-94 between Billings and North Dakota will be more challenging.