By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY, BOZEMAN, WEST YELLOWSTONE – After several years of planning and collaboration, the Skyline Bus system is expanding to include a route from Bozeman to West Yellowstone. The new service is set to begin in July.

“It was a gap in service to and around Yellowstone National Park,” said Skyline’s regional coordinator David Kack.

The Montana Department of Transportation agreed to put $75,000 toward the service for fiscal year 2013, and Skyline is now finalizing the details on that contract.

The Big Sky Resort Tax board in June agreed to fund $300,000, which will go primarily go to the ongoing services in Big Sky and between Big Sky and Bozeman.

Skyline also requested $30,000 from Gallatin County, which the county commission voted against in an initial budget vote in June. This decision was an “issue of budgetary priorities, said Commission Chairman Steve White. They commission, which votes on its final budget in August, has never supported Skyline fiscally.

Regardless, Kack said, “we want to get the service [to West] out on the street. We don’t want to wait until August when the county may or may not provide any support.”

Skyline also requested $5,000 from West Yellowstone, and also asked its town council to send a letter to Gallatin County asking it to support the service.

Skyline is part of the Linx bus system, which is a transportation cooperative that works with 20 providers in the Greater Yellowstone region and also runs busses into the park itself.

“Our goal is to improve connectivity using existing systems already in place,” said Linx Field Representative from West Yellowstone, Kimberly Brown. This new service allows just that.

Linx’s summer operation center is in West, and Brown says of the most popular requests is from people flying into Bozeman who want to get to West so they can see the park.

Riders could use this new service to connect to another carrier in West and ride into Yellowstone Park, to Jackson, Pocatello, Salt Lake City, or other spots around the region.

The service will also compliment an existing one provided by the West Yellowstone Foundation, which offers rides around West and up to Bozeman three days a week. While that service is geared mainly for residents of West to get to Bozeman for medical appointments or shopping, Kack says Skyline is meant more to get people to West. And he notes, it’s 365 days a year.

Skyline has been in service for five years. With more than 60,000 people using the Bozeman – Big Sky service in the last year, the number of people riding Skyline is up from its previous high of 47,449. Ridership on the service within Big Sky has also increased by about 8.5 percent over last year.

Skyline’s summer schedule began Monday, June 18 and will run through Sept. 9. The schedule offers two Canyon – Mountain Routes for rides around Big Sky, and three round trips per day on the Link Express for rides between Bozeman and Big Sky. Demand response service is also available in Big Sky. Busses operate seven days a week.

While the Skyline service within Big Sky is free, a small fare is charged on the service between Big Sky and Bozeman, and will be charged for the ride between Bozeman and West.

skylinebus.com

linx.coop