By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Despite additional bus routes within Big Sky, and to and from Bozeman this winter season, complaints of seat scarcity on Skyline and Link Express services continue—especially during peak months like December.
Big Sky Transportation District Coordinator David Kack chalks it up to a “run of bad luck” that incapacitated several large buses, which were replaced with smaller vehicles with nearly half as many seats.
During a Dec. 4 snowstorm, two Skyline buses were involved in accidents. A vehicle lost control and hit one bus head on near Lake Levinsky at Big Sky Resort; and, in another incident, the back end of a bus was clipped while turning off of Lone Mountain Trail onto Little Coyote Road.
“Fortunately, no one was injured, but we still had to take the buses out of service,” Kack said. “Our back up was smaller vehicles, and if you go from a 45-passenger bus to a 25-passenger bus, you’re going to have some issues.”
With other unanticipated mechanical issues occurring, at one point four of the nine Skyline buses servicing Big Sky were not on the road in December.
Kack reported that numbers from the first half of the fiscal year (July through December) indicate that local ridership within Big Sky is up 7 percent over last year; and there was a 12-percent increase in use of the Link Express between Bozeman and Big Sky.
Skyline saw a significant increase in local ridership in December, while the same month showed a drop for the Link Express—possibly due to the overcrowding issues, Kack said.
This year, Skyline expanded the Town Center to Mountain Village loop to provide more consistent service to Lone Mountain Ranch, Hidden Village and The Pines neighborhoods, and Meadow Village, including a new loop around Little Coyote Road.
Three more daily round trips between Bozeman and Big Sky were also added to the Link Express schedule.
Anticipating increased demand, Kack said the company leased three additional buses for the season, but had he known there would be so much equipment trouble, he would’ve leased at least five.
“I think in general, everybody knows Big Sky is growing and needs to hire more employees for the [increasing number of] businesses … so until we address the workforce housing issues we’ll continue to see a higher demand for the bus services, especially transportation between Big Sky and Bozeman,” Kack said. “In the meantime, we’re doing what we can.”