This Spring, we’ve come to a fork in the road, bringing with it an opportunity to choose how we want to move forward. Will we move ahead the same way we always have? Or will we make a shift to a more sustainable path as we reopen? 

At Mountain Line, the choice is easy. We are committed to making the shift and are already well on our way. And this Spring, we’re hoping to inspire others to head in the same direction.  

It’s no secret 2020 was a lemon of a year due to the pandemic. During the height of the shutdown, Mountain Line’s ridership hovered around 30% of normal as we asked riders to limit trips to essential travel only.

An unexpected silver lining was the opportunity for us to understand that, out of an average 1.5 million rides annually, 30% of the trips we provide are essential – helping essential workers get to their jobs and helping the public access essential services like the grocery store, pharmacy, and doctor’s office.  

While ridership has slowly rebounded to roughly 50% of normal, we’re ready to welcome many more riders back to the bus as employees return to the office and more community events occur. 

Transportation is the leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in our Missoula Valley, and one of the best ways we can move forward sustainably is by shifting our daily travel to biking, walking or public transportation. We recognize that coming back to the bus may be intimidating for some after a year away, (or for those who have never ridden), so we wanted to do something to make coming back both fun and rewarding.  

Introducing our Spring Shift campaign! 

All Spring long, Mountain Line is hosting a series of challenges and activities (with prizes!) geared toward making sustainability part of Missoulians’ everyday routines. The campaign has several elements: a Route Race, Sustainability Challenges and our family-friendly Scavenger Hunt. 

Mountain Line’s Route Race is an Amazing-Race-style scavenger hunt that has participants hopping on the bus, following clues, and earning incentives from local businesses along the way. For each round of the race completed, participants are entered to win a Townie electric bike sponsored by Windfall.  

The Route Race has three rounds, the second of which is live now through May 29. Missoulians can participate in one or all three rounds for up to three entries for the grand prize drawing. Plus, everyone earns rewards just for participating!

In our first leg of the Route Race, which ended May 8, racers earned discount codes at Big Dipper, Burns St. Bistro and Golden Yolk Griddle, and were entered to win prizes from Climate Smart Missoula, the Clark Fork Coalition and Rockin Rudy’s! Find your first clue in this leg of the race here

If you’re not quite ready to travel around in search of clues, check out our family-friendly Scavenger Hunt. Participants who complete the scavenger hunt by June 16 are entered to win a two-night stay at ABC Farms in the Bitterroot, sponsored by the Missoula Family YMCA and ABC Farms. 

Finally, in Mountain Line’s Spring Shift Challenges, Missoulians can collect a series of virtual badges for sustainable behaviors, such as shopping in bulk, choosing sustainable fashion, composting, and of course, riding the bus.

For each challenge completed, participants are entered to win prizes from local businesses (like six months of glass recycling or a deluxe bike tune up). If participants collect 10 unique badges between April 1 and June 16, they are entered to win the grand prize, a three-night glamping vacation at ROAM Beyond’s Glacier National Park location, courtesy of ROAM Beyond.  

Each activity in our Spring Shift campaign gives Missoulians a fun reason to learn or refamiliarize themselves with Mountain Line’s services and to see all the great places you can get to in Missoula by bus. And, since all Mountain Line services are zero-fare, there’s no cost to participate!  

In addition to Spring Shift, Mountain Line is making great strides to become even more sustainable as an agency, to further benefit all Missoulians. Securing $4.6 million in state and federal funding last year, Mountain Line was able to purchase six additional electric buses. When these new buses arrive later this year, our fleet will be 40% electric, bringing us that much closer to fulfilling our commitment to a zero-tailpipe-emissions fleet by 2035. 

Mountain Line is also in the process of significantly scaling up its team in 2021 in order to debut seven-day and seven-night service starting in January 2022. Made possible by a successful mill levy request in the November 2020 election, Mountain Line will be increasing its service by nearly 30%, offering earlier-morning, later-evening and full weekend service – including Sunday service for the first time ever.

And we’re in the midst of our Bus Stop Improvement Project, which is adding 68 more accessible boarding areas, moving some stops to safer locations, and improving infrastructure for riders along the way.  

Access to reliable, sustainable, zero-fare transportation helps students get to school, employees get to work, and seniors and people living with disabilities to stay active and independent. By reducing the number of single vehicles on the road, lessening traffic congestion and investing in electric buses, Mountain Line benefits us all. 

Please join us in making the Spring Shift and reopening sustainably. Learn more at mountainline.com

Shanti Johnson is the Communications, Outreach and Marketing Specialist for Mountain Line. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hallow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Now through June. Spring Shift and Transit Scavenger Hunt! Mountain Line, Missoula in Motion and others are partnering to shift to sustainable transportation this spring, and beyond! Learn more and join HERE.

May is Bike MonthAll month long, take part in events, workshops, art, prizes from local businesses, bike “celebration stations” with treats, and more! Hosted by Missoula in Motion and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board. Check out all the happenings on the Bike Month calendar and follow their Facebook page.

Fixit Clinic May 15. 11am-3pm. Home ReSource is very excited to announce the return of the in-person Fixit Clinic, with the first one this Saturday. There will be 3 coaches, skilled in sewing, wooden furniture, and electrical repair - so please plan the item(s) you will bring accordingly! The Community Room currently has a capacity of 10 people at a time – reserve a spot here.

May 18 – Final Presentation for Missoula Connect, Missoula’s Long Range Transportation Plan. The draft plan is in the final outreach phase – this is the last opportunity for feedback before the plan is finalized and recommended for adoption. Attend a virtual presentation on May 18 (links via City of Missoula Events Calendar) and provide comments via the MPO website through May 21.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! For more info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and Montana Renewable Energy Association are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at Zero Waste Missoula.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.