Tag Archives: Rimrock

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.