Mobile app users can hail cost-free rides between Town Center and Meadow Village
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
On Monday, Jan. 2, Skyline Bus launched Big Sky Connect, the anticipated fare-free micro transit service to help alleviate vehicle traffic in Big Sky by completing short rides and helping locals and visitors reach bus stops.
Through the Skyline Big Sky Connect App, riders within the service area can request a free ride between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Both pickup and drop-off must occur within Big Sky’s Town Center and Meadow Village. The general boundaries of the program are the Firelight neighborhood to the south, Little Coyote Road (toward the Mountain Village) and the wastewater holding ponds to the east. Lone Mountain Ranch is included as a “satellite” service area, an exception to the service area boundaries.
Riders can expect to wait 10 to 15-minutes for their driver to arrive, and the vans are big enough to fit skis and snowboards—the service provider plans to add ski racks soon. One of the vans is ADA accessible for handicap use.
“We feel the service is going to be a game changer for the community,” said Darren Brugmann, executive director of the Big Sky Transportation District. “We feel very strongly that it will be well received. The [transportation district and board] are already looking into our next expansion. That could be Hidden Village, we could branch further down into the canyon, and we could also set up a service area up in the Mountain Village.”
Brugmann hoped Big Sky Connect could launch by mid-December. However, the launch was delayed by supply chain snags and vehicle shipping delays caused by a snowstorm in Sierra County, Calif. Finally active with three minivans, Brugmann is proud to announce that the third-party contractor, Downtowner, was able to implement service in near-record time from idea stages to execution.
“We’ve been very pleased with [Downtowner],” Brugmann said. The micro transit service is active in Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Park City (Canyons), Jackson Hole and has seven operations in Tahoe. Brugmann added that Mike Fisher, Downtowner’s region manager, has been in Big Sky since early December to set up the service and hire drivers.
Fisher told EBS it’s an absolute honor to bring this service to Big Sky. He’s been working seven days a week from 4:15 a.m. until the job’s done, often as late as 6 p.m. He’s an avid snowboarder, but said implementing this service has been his sole focus since arriving.
“This project is my baby,” he said. “Once we’ve got everything running smoothly, I’m gonna get out and get some turns.”
Fisher acknowledged this is a brand-new service for Big Sky’s riders and drivers. He emphasized Downtowner’s hands-on engagement; with around 25 operations around the country, he’ll hand off program leadership to local operations manager Pete Black. But when challenges arise, Fisher said Downtowner is small enough that they’re easy to get ahold of, and he’ll make regular visits from Basalt, Colo. to check in on the local service.
Black told EBS he’s excited to help launch Big Sky Connect, “and to help all the workers in town get to and from work, while preventing any kind of intoxicated driving. We‘re here to serve the community and make life a little easier here in town.”
Black said Big Sky Connect’s growing team of about 10 drivers is fantastic.
“They’re all very good, very friendly people looking to help the community,” he said.
Fisher added that he can’t thank the local community enough, and he appreciates Big Sky’s reception to the new service. He said Big Sky’s team of drivers has been “really solid so far.”
Brugmann acknowledged that unfortunately, the Hidden Village neighborhood will not be included in the initial service area. However, he said that the first few months of Big Sky Connect will generate important insights to help adapt the program, including possible limited hours or seasonal expansion to include Hidden Village. Black also expressed his hope to expand service in the coming months.
“For now we concentrated on Meadow Village and Town Center, due to density and concentrations of where people live and work,” Brugmann said. “That’s what Downtowner told us to expect when we focus on a specific service area… After about a month you get a good feel for what’s happening.”
Brugmann said the first day was quiet, before demand doubled on Tuesday. He expects the service will continue to gain momentum by word of mouth.