KALISPELL — Flathead County commissioners have voted to cancel its contract to operate a shuttle service in Glacier National Park because the National Park Service hasn't increased its funding to match the increased ridership.
The county has operated the shuttle service, which is free to park visitors, for 13 years. Commissioners voted Wednesday to end the Glacier Transit Cooperative Agreement at the end of the year.
"Since 2007, Flathead County has partnered in good faith with Glacier National Park to provide a valuable service that helps the park manage visitor flow and helps visitors enjoy their experience in the park, but the system as it stands is broken and county taxpayers have paid a high cost for little benefit to our communities," Commissioner Randy Brodehl wrote in a statement.
However, he left it open for the park to come back with another proposal, Montana Public Radio reported.
The shuttle carried 138,000 riders in 2012 and 255,000 riders in 2019 without a corresponding increase in the number of shuttles, leading to wait times of two hours or more as the park gets record numbers of visitors. The shuttle runs between West Glacier across the Continental Divide to St. Mary and Many Glacier, with stops points in between.
The combination of older vehicles, increased maintenance needs, insufficient park funding and the inability to offer competitive wages to hire enough drivers led the county to vote to end the contract, officials said.
"Although discussions with Glacier National Park continue, an acceptable resolution has yet to be reached," the county said in a statement. "Commissioners remain hopeful the park will address the county's concerns, but have taken the necessary step to end the agreement should the ongoing discussions fail.
The park established the transit system to reduce vehicle congestion on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during a years-long rehabilitation that began in 2007, but is now complete, park Superintendent Jeff Mow told the Flathead Beacon.
The park's recently released management plan to deal with increased visitation included a proposal to expand the county's shuttle services.
During recent negotiations, the county told the park its funding for the shuttle would have to increase by nearly 50% next year to keep up with maintenance and administrative costs.
The park continues to explore ways to expand its shuttle system, Mow said.
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