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Mountain Line lobbies for levy

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Regulars of the Missoula nightlife scene have been known to criticize Mountain Line's 7 p.m. service cutoff, leaving revelers to assign designated drivers, find cabs or walk home at the end of the night. A newly proposed $1.7 million levy for the Missoula Urban Transportation District, if passed, would provide longer hours, but the selling points are more for business reasons than pleasure.

The funding would help Mountain Line enact the second part of a five-phase improvement plan set to take place over the next 37 years. General Manager Michael Tree says the goal is to add another "Bolt!" bus line to route 2, increase wages for bus drivers and other staff by 2.5-3 percent, and expand curb-to-curb service for senior and disabled passengers. The curb-to-curb service is currently operating at full capacity.

"We foresee denials coming in the near future if we don't add the capacity there," he says. "It's maxed out."

As for the extended hours, Mountain Line would run until 9:50 p.m., but Tree says it's not a change aimed at partiers. The later service targets employees who work evening shifts at Southgate Mall, St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center. Tree does not see an opportunity in the future for bus lines to run even later into the night.

If passed, the mill levy will increase the transportation tax by $19 on a house valued at $100,000, bringing the total tax to $44 per household. In the 35 years that Mountain Line has been operational, a levy such as this has never been put before the voters.

Tree is optimistic that the bill will pass. Ridership is up in recent years, with almost 1 million passengers in 2012. Plus, he says Missoula is a community that understands the importance of public transportation.

"I think that most folks recognize that Mountain Line benefits everybody," he says. "It's obvious that people who ride the bus benefit, but the more and more people we get on the bus, the less vehicles are on the road, and then that converts to less congestion, better air quality and better parking within the community."

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