In 1986, Montana voters approved I-105 to freeze property taxes. Ever since, Mountain Line's ability to provide new services has been "pretty much frozen," says General Manager Steve Earle.
A recommendation from the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board may provide Mountain Line with new resources, but at least one councilmember worries that the provision, which allows businesses to sponsor bus shelters, may spur the proliferation of commercial signage in the city.
The recommendation from the planning board calls for the city to allow Mountain Line to advertise on bus shelters. The idea, Earle says, is that a business could ask for a shelter near its office.
"Maybe we could put a shelter someplace where we couldn't afford one but we could if a business would sponsor it," Earle says.
In exchange, the business gets advertising and the public gets another shelter to wait in on snowy winter days. In addition, Earle thinks the provision could help with route frequency.
"Frequency is what we're hearing people really want," he says. "They don't like having to wait 30 or 40 minutes for the next bus. They'd love to only wait 15 minutes."
But frequency is expensive. Earle says that to double the efficiency of a single route during peak hours would cost about $100,000, and allowing a business to sponsor a bus shelter would help alleviate the financial burden.
The advertising provision doesn't sit well with Ward 1 Councilmember Dave Strohmaier, who worries about the precedent the provision would set as well as the potential visual blight.
"I understand that Mountain Line is strapped for cash," Strohmaier says, "but I'm not convinced that we've exhausted all avenues to pay for [increased services]."
Strohmaier made a motion during the July 29 Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee to strike the recommendation, but it failed. Nevertheless, Earle says that even if Mountain Line could allow businesses to advertise on shelters, he's not yet convinced it would generate much new revenue.
"I think [local businesses] are sticking with what they have," Earle says. "I don't think there's a lot of money floating around for marketing right now."