Eagle Transit Expands Service in Kalispell

County eliminates lightly used Evergreen route to start Orange Line service

By Justin Franz
Eagle Transit's fleet includes 11 busses, which service Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County’s Eagle Transit has eliminated a lightly used bus route to Evergreen and replaced it with a new route connecting the south end of town with Hutton Ranch in an effort to expand transit service in the community.

The county transit system also rebranded its two Kalispell bus routes: The old Kalispell City Route is called the Green Line and the new route is called the Orange Line. While the Green Line primarily serves the area immediately downtown, the Orange Line covers the outer-edges of Kalispell while also decreasing the amount of time it takes to get from the downtown area to Hutton Ranch.

In years past, it would take upwards of an hour to ride the bus from downtown all the way to Hutton Ranch, as the bus made multiple stops through downtown, Evergreen, and the area around Kalispell Regional Healthcare. Now, riders will be able to go from Smith’s in Kalispell to Flathead Valley Community College in just 11 minutes.

Previously, there were only two buses an hour between downtown and Hutton Ranch. But now, thanks to the addition of the Orange Line, there are three buses an hour between the two points.

According to Eagle Transit Manager Tom Schneider, the Orange Line helps Eagle Transit provide more services to schools and businesses in the Kalispell area. It also passes within a block of more than 20 apartments. The Orange Line service began on Jan. 2, and Schneider said it’s already gaining popularity. During the first week of service, the Orange Line had about 20 riders a day and Schneider expects that to increase significantly as word gets out about the new service.

The Green Line serves 60 to 100 riders a day, Schneider said.

Schneider said his staff came up with the new route system in December after spending a few days studying Bozeman’s bus system. They also talked to riders to see what type of service improvements they wanted to see on the system. For example, the old Green Line only runs around the perimeter of Hutton Ranch, but the Orange Line makes stops right in front of select stores like Target and Costco.

“It helps gets people where they want to go,” Schneider said of the new route.

In order to free up drivers and buses for the new service, Eagle Transit eliminated a commuter route that served Evergreen and only had a few riders a day. Schneider said Evergreen residents who depended on that route could still use the Dial-A-Ride service Eagle Transit provides.

To celebrate the new route, all rides on Eagle Transit, including those between Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell, will be free in the month of February. Rides are normally $1.

Schneider said he hopes to continue to expand service in the future, although that will depend on funding. Eagle Transit is funded through state and federal grants, local taxes, fares and advertising.

“Ride the bus,” Schneider said. “The more people that ride the bus, the more funding we get, the more routes we can offer.”

To see a detailed version of the new Orange Line schedule, visit flathead.mt.gov/eagle.