Tag Archives: Billings

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


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.