In Tuesday’s municipal election, Missoula voters approved a $1.7 million annual mill levy to improve the city’s Mountain Line bus system. The final vote was 10,210 to 7,688, meaning 57 percent of voters approved it.
Opinions of the levy were mixed leading up to and following the levy’s passage. Proponents cited the effects that increased bus ridership has on improving air quality and reducing congestion out on the roads. Critics argued that they shouldn’t have to pay for the bus if they don’t ride it.
A Missoula property owner with a home valued at $100,000 will see their annual property taxes increase by roughly 20 dollars. NBC Montana hopped on board bus on Saturday, and asked Missoula Urban Transportation District General Manager Michael Tree to help break down where that money will go.
Tree explained that Mountain Line held public meetings in 2012 to gather input on improvements like expanded bus hours and increased service for disabled people and seniors. Ridership in specialized “curb-to-curb” transportation services increased 18 percent in 2012.
Tree tells NBC Montana that rider fares account for roughly 15 percent of Mountain Line’s budget. He says 50 percent of the levy will help pay to make buses available more often throughout the day, while the other money will go ward adding late-evening bus rides and new equipment.
Tree tells NBC Montana that non-riders are benefited by Mountain Line partly by the reduction of pollution and increase in available parking spaces in the city. Folks who may see some seemingly empty buses sometimes drive through downtown, he says, can look at public transportation as a bit like shopping at the grocery store.
“As you arrive in the parking lot and grab a shopping cart, it’s empty. You’re taking it into the store and little by little you fill the cart,” said Tree.
Tree says Mountain Line tracks ridership by counting the number of standing-room–only trips during peak times (commuter hours). Tree says there are seven to ten rides like that on any given day. Folks looking for more information about the levy can click here.