Missoula bus routes to run less frequently – but still operating

Starting Thursday, fewer Missoula buses will be circulating for a shorter time during the day due to concerns about COVID-19.

With more businesses and gatherings shutting down due to county and state directives, Mountain Line ridership continues to slip, although some people still need help getting around.

“People depend on us for essential travel,” said Mountain Line general manager Corey Aldridge in a statement. “We serve healthcare workers and grocery-store staff, and our riders depend on us to get to the doctor’s office and pick up food. That’s why Mountain Line will continue service as long as we have employees who are able to drive and maintain vehicles.”

Missoula Mountain Line buses will start picking up passengers a bit later in the day, and then not run as late. Beginning Thursday, all buses will start running at 6:45 a.m. and stop at 7:15 p.m. The only exception is the paratransit service for dialysis patients, which will start at 5:45 a.m.

Prior to Thursday, some popular routes would start before 6 a.m. and run later in the evening.

Mountain Line spokesperson Shanti Johnson said buses would continue to serve all existing areas. However, buses that used to stop more frequently than every hour are being cut back.

“All existing areas will continue to receive service, but riders may have to wait up to 45 more minutes for the bus,” said Jennifer Sweten, Mountain Line operations director. “Paratransit will be available to our entire service area, for all hours of operation.”

Paratransit, for those who are unfamiliar, is a service for those who are impaired such that they have a hard time making it to a bus stop or riding a regular bus. The service will transport them anywhere, not just clinics or hospitals.

“It’s a service we have to approve, so we’re trying to expedite approvals for that, especially since we stopped running our seniors van,” Johnson said. “But we’ve actually seen a reduction in ridership overall, including paratransit. We’re really grateful that people are taking only necessary rides.”

The reduction in Mountain Line hours will reduce the amount of time bus operators are exposed to the danger of infection, as the number of known COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Montana. The less people are out and about, the safer everyone is.

As of Tuesday night, Missoula County had six confirmed cases, however more people could be infected and not know it.

For up-to date information on Mountain Line changes in response to COVID-19, go to www.mountainline.com/covid19. To see if your bus route has changes, go to https://www.mountainline.com/maps-schedules/route-schedules.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.