The local economy would take an estimated $4.7 million hit if Mountain Line weren’t part of it, according to a new study.

That’s one conclusion of an economic impact analysis conducted by the Montana Department of Transportation and released recently by Mountain Line general manager Michael Tree. The report addressed whether the bus line is a net gain or loss in nine counties of western Montana.

“I don’t think people realize that for every job that’s there at Mountain Line providing service, there is another job created in the private sector,” Tree said. “That was a key highlight for me.”

Mountain Line has a $4.5 million operating budget; roughly $1.5 million comes from the federal government, $600,000 from fares, and the rest from property taxes, according to the agency. The report notes nearly 60 percent of its operating costs are covered by local public support and fares.

“It’s a good exercise in is Mountain Line a taxpayer problem? Or a positive economic impact?” Tree said.

At least one member of the Missoula City Council questioned the lack of depth in the report, but its findings note positive impacts and include the following:

n Mountain Line produces roughly 100 jobs in Missoula and western Montana with an average wage of $38,000, Tree said. Half are direct employees, but the other jobs are outside the agency.

“The other 51, 52 jobs actually are in the private sector, and they’re jobs created from the fuel Mountain Line buys, the parts that Mountain Line buys, the construction projects that Mountain Line has had go on in the past,” Tree said.

If Mountain Line went away, 33 of those jobs would remain because private money from the property tax would go back to the taxpayer and generate economic activity, Tree said. But 63 of the jobs would disappear, the study said.

n In 2012 and 2013, Mountain Line will bring in $2.39 million in income in northwest Montana each year. In other words, if the local money that goes to Mountain Line went back to taxpayers instead, “personal income in the area would decline” by $2.39 million annually, according to the report.

n Doing away with Mountain Line also would “produce $2.3 million less in goods and services” in both 2012 and 2013 in nine counties in western Montana, the report says.

The study, conducted by Hal Fossum in the rail, transit and planning division of the Montana Department of Transportation’s economics program, acknowledges that pulling local support out of Mountain Line would increase the incomes of individuals. However, it says “the need to spend money on other transportation would also increase.”

On the whole, the report notes the money spent on Mountain Line is a net positive for the region, technically Montana Department of Transportation District 1.

But the report is barely three pages long, and Missoula City Councilman Adam Hertz said it’s far too simplistic for its conclusions to be accepted without some skepticism. If taxpayers had the opportunity to spend the money differently, they might make decisions that spur more economic activity than Mountain Line does, Hertz said.

The study addressed whether Mountain Line alone offers a positive impact, Hertz said, and he isn’t surprised at the conclusion. But he said a better study would compare the investment into Mountain Line against other options.

“I’m not saying that Mountain Line is a bad thing. It just is a really poor study,” Hertz said.

When reached for comment last week, Fossum said he would pass the request onto the Montana Department of Transportation’s public information officer to follow protocol; when reached again, he said the request remained pending.

In a brief section titled “policy issues,” the report also notes Mountain Line is forecast to have positive impacts on tourism, land use patterns, safety, and pollution.

“This analysis does not quantify livability impacts of the Mountain Line program, which are significant transportation goals in the Missoula area,” the report says. “The economic impacts from livability, though not estimated here, would likely be positive. Measuring those benefits is beyond the reach of this analysis.”

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on

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(9) comments


The story exhibits some very bad and deceptive math.


Drop the bus, except small cummuters for the elderly and disabled. No more. Then drop a commenserate portion of local property tax (Otherwise the council will spend it in a new york minute).


The alleged "Private sector" jobs produced by mountain line expenditures are not cheap. The basic math here is $2.1mm / 52 (jobs) = $40,385 per job. That is high wages for people standing around collecting ticket fares.

This is the heart of the "Public funding" debate......the government usurps your hot, sweaty cash and re-distributes to someone else. No only is it not fair, it is not necessary at all as it would be cheaper to hire taxi's. Whether it is local taxes of federal, they are all monies taken from people who do not benefit from the product......that is the "Progressive Way."

More math:
Add back in the federal dollars and we have $2.7mm / 52 jobs = $51,924 per job (True cost).
Whoops.......are you thinking what I am thinking! You pay fed taxes you are getting taxed TWICE for the bus.

Curious, who ordered this "Kaptain Kangaroo" report, complete with pictures and scratch and sniff cards?


this study is hocus pocus, how many jobs would we have if we had more bike retailers/mechanics, and since they wouldn't be on a government payroll, we wouldn't be beholding to them for their rich benefits package till the end of their time on earth. Mountain Line doesn't put boo into the community. The socialists of Missoula and in Missoula government need to quit trying to fool us and themselves about how their broadway diets and Mountain Line make sense, because non of them do. University can run a few busses from out lying parking areas, but people not being able to get to work without a bus is bull. Ride a bike, walk, ride share, hitchhike.

Born Here
Born Here

I must have missed something here.. cost of operation, $ 4.5 million, less $1.5 million from the "feds" (you and me) , less $600,000 in fares, that leaves the tax payers (you and me) holding the bag for the extra $2.4 million. But yet they say "personal income in the are would decline". Isn't the taxpayer income declining by the $2.4 in Mountain Line taxes we are already paying? You're just taking the money from the left hand , and putting it into the right. As anyone can clearly see, this thing is a real money maker. This business model needs to be taught at the U. I guess most all business's on the private side have been doing it wrong for century's. Cost of business $4.5 mil.. income $600,000...and still stay in business... BRILLIANT!

mt bison
mt bison

Adam Hertz is wrong. The local funds that support Mountain Line leverage an equal amount of federal transportation dollars into our community. That's a lot more bang for the buck that we citizens can do on our own. And as result, our seniors and disabled folks can get out and about, we have fewer cars on our streets (and thus less traffic congestion and smog), and convenient, affordable bus service for all.


When I served on the Transportation Board in the 90's, in a time of controversy and change in the system, we received alot of bad press from the community over the need for a bus system in a community the size of Missoula. We set up the contract with the University of Montana and built the transfer center downtown ( although I favored smaller centers scattered around the community to avert many from haqving to come downtown on a trip and to compete a little better with the automobile. I lost that fight but overall the system has improved over the years, especially after removing a national transportation company that ran the system since Mountain Line was formed. The importance of transportation for the disability community, seniors and students can not be underestimated. The importance of providing independence to these members of the community is a service like water or police protection. It benefits us all and we are fortunate to have a service like this in a city the size of Missoula. Our biggest friend has been the price of gasoline and many of my friends who decried the system over the years suddenly found a way to use the service to save on gasoline costs and now swear by it. It is nice to know that some jobs are created by the system but the most important factor in bus service in this community is the word independence. It gives many who would not have any other option the independence to live lives that give them control and not dependent on family or friends for transportation. That makes it worth its weight in gold.


Montana I have a question for you, after watching this public transit system grow and progress over the last 20 yrs do you think your way is or would have been better? thanks


I agree with Adam Hertz on this, and why would Mountain line give students free rides from the University to the elections office every 30 minutes for them to congest a polling place when the students are 1: able to vote on campus 2: are able bodied and could walk, bike or carpool by themselves. If free rides are given I would much rather see them go to the handicapped and the senior citizens, the people who really need the transportation help.

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