Mountain Line bus service moves Missoulians through blizzard

2014-02-28T21:15:00Z 2014-10-19T08:35:38Z Mountain Line bus service moves Missoulians through blizzardBy KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian The Billings Gazette

The gnarliest blizzard of the year isn’t shutting down Mountain Line.

The agency offered free bus rides all day Friday and Saturday to keep drivers off the icy, snow-blown roads. Despite the storm, all 12 routes were running Friday and shuttle drivers were picking up riders who missed connections due to the weather.

“Mountain Line is really a piece of infrastructure for the city,” said Michael Tree, general manager. “It’s a critical city service, and so on a day like today, when it’s really tough to get around transitwise, and the city can see their systems up and going, and all the routes are functioning and pretty dang close to being on time, that’s a real confidence booster for the community to know there’s real value there for them.”

The blasts of wind and snow delayed some buses five to 10 minutes, and it created some detours, according to Mountain Line and its bus tracker.

“We’re trying to run as close to on time as possible, but I think that passengers should just be aware there’s a possibility their bus might be delayed,” said Topher Williams, community outreach coordinator.

Riders can check Mountain Line’s bus trackers on an app or at mountainline.com for estimated arrival times. Mountain Line also is posting updates on its Facebook page and Twitter at @mslabus, and answering phones at 721-3333.

“The bus tracker has been a really critical service for people to know where their bus is at,” Williams said. “It’s also really important for us in the office to be monitoring the buses as well.”

As needed Friday, three supervisors hit the road to pick up riders who had lost connections because of weather, Tree said. The supervisors have desk jobs but were on “wildcat” duty for the blizzard.

Storms usually increase ridership 20 percent, but the bump Friday wouldn’t be quite as high given all the closures, Williams said. The blizzard shuttered Missoula schools as well as the University of Montana and other businesses.

On Friday morning, the bus on Route 11 got stuck briefly, and Mountain Line put several detours in place to remain on passable roads. As of late Friday afternoon, the detours were as follows:

Route 1: Not using Main Street and Front Street, bus taking Broadway to Madison Avenue.

Route 4: Bus staying on Montana Highway 200 after East Missoula. Route turnaround at Town Pump in Bonner.

Route 7: Coming out of Southgate Mall, the bus is taking Paxton to 39th Street.

Route 11: Not running behind Home Depot, the route is staying on Reserve Street.

“We’re going to try our best to get all of those detours remedied and get the buses back on normal routes as soon as possible,” Williams said.

Some 30 drivers were on the road Friday counting those with the door-to-door service, and their long experience is the main reason the snowstorm didn’t thwart buses, said general manager Tree. Mountain Line drivers have some 16 years behind the wheel on average, and their quality driving meant no wrecks Friday and routes close to on time.

“The conditions out there were really tough, and they’re still tough,” Tree said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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