It was far short of a warm welcome.
Only five passengers (including one Indy reporter) boarded the buses Tuesday morning for the inaugural run of Flathead County’s first public transit system to provide commuter service between Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
“We were pretty disappointed,” said Cheryl Talley, Program Manager for Eagle Transit, the county’s public transit service. “I thought we had a lot of attention out there.”
Talley hopes word will get around about the service, and notes that Flathead Valley Community College, one of the stops that could potentially yield a lot of commuters, was closed Tuesday.
Eagle Transit has to suspend the routes in mid-June, when Glacier National Park will use the buses for its transit service. Whether the buses resume routes through the Flathead in the fall remains to be seen.
The service is funded by a one-time federal grant through the Federal Transit Administration and, Talley says, “In order to get further funding we need to see interest.”
Service was supposed to have started three months ago, but was delayed by mechanical problems with the $300,000 rigs.
The buses have a low-emission exhaust system, originally designed to re-filter exhaust when the vehicles reach 40 miles per hour for more than 40 minutes. But the buses, due to their multi-stop routes through the Flathead—or through Glacier for that matter— would never have reached the 40/40 mark. Consequently, they needed some retooling before hitting the road.
As they are now, the buses do re-filter emissions, burning the carbon a second time as fuel. The buses are also able to run on biofuel, although Talley said that for the time being, Eagle Transit is just focusing on getting passengers.
The morning ride from Whitefish to Kalispell snagged only three riders, including Chris Hussler, who says she hopes to take the bus to work at Kalispell Regional Medical Center every day.
“It’s great,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for something like this for a while. I moved here from Colorado, and I took the bus all the time there.”