Riding the Short Bus

Montana’s well-preserved reputation for a love of the outdoors hasn’t seemed to dim in light of the steady increase in population. In fact, residents of Southwest Montana often find themselves swapping tall tales over their once-solitary fishing holes. Contrary to what one might think, an increase in population has its advantages, such as the opportunity to institute an alternative public transportation system. To many, that term includes a bevy of options including carpools, bicycles, subway systems, and trains; however, in Southwest Montana, an area plagued (or blessed) by distance, alternative transportation is a challenge. The solution: create a network of viable systems based around active lifestyles.

It was a long time coming. Way back in 1986, the MSU College of Engineering conducted its first official alternative transportation study. Twenty years and multiple studies later, Bozeman finally seemed capable of establishing a successful transit system; on August 21, 2006, Streamline, a year-round public transportation system, was introduced to Bozeman, Belgrade, and Four Corners. Three months later Big Sky replaced its low-key transit system with the new and improved year-round Skyline service. Streamline and Skyline have multiple connection points around the valley, creating a solid network of transportation between Big Sky, Bozeman, Belgrade, and the surrounding areas.

Thus is the start of a new era for the Greater Gallatin Valley. Outdoor enthusiasts, commuters, and tourists can turn off their engines, put their wallets back in their pockets, and jump aboard a fare-free, environmentally-friendly system. “Not only does this bus service provide safe and economical transportation for employees and guests,” states Moonlight Basin owner Lee Poole, sponsor of the Skyline Link Express “it also reduces harmful emissions.”

Adhering to the community’s alternative lifestyle, Streamline’s new yellow buses run on biodiesel, and both Skyline and Streamline offer easily loadable front bike-racks and wide doors with ramps to transport skis and snowboarding gear. “Residents and visitors wanting to hike, bike, ski or just sightsee for the day can travel to the Big Sky area fare-free,” states Skyline coordinator David Kack. “And with the ability to transport skis and bikes, as well as meet the general needs of the public, the system accommodates a wide range of mobility needs year-round.”

Similar to transit systems already in place in Missoula, Great Falls, and Billings, Streamline and Skyline have seen the number of riders exceed original expectations. Future plans include the possibility of expansion to Gallatin Field Airport, Bridger Bowl, Three Forks, Manhattan, West Yellowstone, and Park and Madison counties. For more information or to download a schedule, visit streamlinebus.com and skylinebus.com.