The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce is looking to start summer bus service that would connect the downtown area with Big Mountain and retail stores along U.S. Highway 93. Executive Director Kevin Gartland said the plan is still in its infancy but he hopes to begin service in the summer of 2013.
The bus, or road trolley, would operate like the winter Snow Bus, but would be routed through the downtown area more frequently and only go up the mountain a few times a day. Gartland said he hopes to see two open-air trolley buses operate the service and that the vehicles could cost anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000 each.
“It’d be good for Whitefish residents and visitors alike,” Gartland said. “(But) it’s still in the very early stages.”
Gartland said it would cost about $15,000 a month to operate the bus service and $50,000 annually. He said the idea of public transportation in the summer has been something the chamber has considered before and recently it approached the city council about the idea. The next step is to form a committee that would look into various aspects of the service, including how to pay for it. Gartland said he envisioned a public and private partnership to run the trolley system.
As Whitefish becomes a more popular tourist destination, Gartland said the need has arisen for better public transportation. The new service would likely operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and be centered around the railroad depot. Buses would run in coordination with the morning and evening Amtrak Empire Builder trains.
Jan Metzmaker, director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the town needs better public transportation and hopes the current plan for trolleys is expanded. She proposed that buses run from Whitefish to West Glacier, to connect with public transit inside Glacier National Park.
“If they were able to connect the dots and connect Whitefish to Glacier National Park, that’d be great,” she said. “Right now there’s a gap in that connection.”
Metzmaker said many tourist come to Whitefish on Amtrak, yet when they arrive there is no easy way for them to visit the park and are often forced to rent a vehicle. However, Metzmaker said funding is the biggest roadblock she sees in setting up the new service.
Gartland said concrete plans were still a ways off, but he hoped to know more in the coming months.
“There’s still a lot of leg work and research to be done, he said.
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