Service may improve between Big Sky, Bozeman, West Yellowstone
By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

The key is to work together.

That’s what was decided during a Jan. 13 Transportation Advisory Committee meeting, as interest groups from Big Sky, Bozeman and West Yellowstone came together to discuss public transportation in the region.

The goal was figuring out how to improve transportation in the region through coordination between the agencies and private operations involved, said David Kack, Skyline’s transportation coordinator.

“Big Sky is unique because it’s a bigger geographic area with fewer players, it’s unincorporated and we deal with two counties,” Kack said. “Today, we’re talking about how to work together for more transportation.”

The meeting included representatives from Skyline, Karst Stage, Shuttle to Big Sky, the West Yellowstone Foundation, and the Big Sky Transportation District Board.

First on the agenda was approving the coordination plan, which the TAC did unanimously.

This plan lays out the committee’s priorities to continue the connection with Bozeman, expand to West Yellowstone, and possibly add a later night service. This plan is part of an application for federal funding and will go next to the board of directors for approval.

The group agreed improving transportation between Big Sky and West Yellowstone is important.

Currently, Karst brings riders once a day from Big Sky Resort to West, but only on a seasonal basis. The nonprofit West Yellowstone Foundation provides a service within West, and travels twice a week to Bozeman.

The WYF would like to expand this service, said Mary Linhoff, the group’s administrator. “We’d like to develop a schedule, some continuity, with predictable arrival and return times” to get riders to Big Sky and Bozeman, she said.

Linhoff, who recently moved from Denver to West, wanted to know why the bus wasn’t dropping skiers off. “Let’s get some ski racks on the bus,” she said. She also suggested people from Bozeman and Big Sky could ride the bus down to ski at the Rendezvous nordic trails.

“How [do we] work together as partners, not competitors?” Linhoff asked. “The great news is this is on the table and we’re moving forward.”

In summer, Big Sky could benefit from national park traffic that goes through West, said Robin Brower-McBride from the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. She’s been talking to the chamber in West about creating weekly bus routes in the summer, bringing people to Big Sky for the free concert series every Thursday in Big Sky, and from Big Sky to the rodeo in West.

“It’s about enriching guest experience,” Brower-McBride said.

Year round, public transportation is important to residents of West Yellowstone who use the service to Bozeman for medical appointments, Linhoff said.

One option for increasing this service is having a bus drive from West to Big Sky, instead of all the way to Bozeman. There, riders could transfer onto a Skyline bus and ride into Bozeman.

Shortening the trip could save money to help create that connection on a daily basis instead of just twice a week, Kack suggested.

Jan Brown, a representative from Linx also spoke at the meeting. This service shuttles people around the northern Rockies. A co-op, it allows riders to book tickets with different carriers online and ride between places like Salt Lake City, Jackson, Wyo., Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, Denver and the Black Hills.

“Jackson to Bozeman or vice versa is the most frequent request. Without this link in the canyon we don’t have a good product,” Brown said.

The groups are working together to write an annual funding request to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). Currently, federal money pays about 56 percent of Skyline’s costs, Kack said. The federal funding flows to MDT, which administers the funds.

Matching local funding is required by MDT and covers most of the rest of the service. The main local supporters are resort tax, the ski resorts, the Big Sky Owners Association, the Yellowstone Club and Madison County.

Marketing the transportation services is also a priority, said Ennion Williams, the Big Sky Transportation District board chairman.

“The transportation board works with large employers like the Yellowstone Club and Big Sky Resort to create efficiencies in getting employees to and from work between Bozeman and Big Sky,” Williams said.

Another goal is reducing traffic in Gallatin Canyon by getting more people to ride the Link bus, Williams said. He wants employees, skiers and visitors all to know about the service.

The TAC typically meets three to four times a year. The Transportation District Board, a separate entity, includes representatives from Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin, as well as two local residents. The board is looking to add another Madison County resident.