Planning to Adapt to Growth

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: February 20, 2024

Bozeman, MT’s recent population growth has left some folks behind. A 2023 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Areas of Persistent Poverty (AoPP) grant strives to create equitable access for underserved communities.

Huddled in the Rocky Mountains, Bozeman, MT has attracted many new residents from around the country. The city saw a 43% population increase between 2010-2020, and has grown another 5.3% since the 2020 Census. In January 2014, the median sales price for a home in Bozeman was $254,000. Today it’s $649,000 and rising.

Currently, Bozeman and its surrounding Gallatin County have a transit system run by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), a non-profit funded by private donations, contract revenue, and foundation and government grants. When Gallatin County’s population rose to over 50,000 in 2020, they transitioned to being categorized as a rural area by the FTA to a small urban area, requiring that their public transit services be administered by a local government or transportation district to receive FTA funds. In May 2023, Gallatin County voters decided to establish the Gallatin Valley Urban Transportation District (GVUTD) and expect the leadership transition to take about two years.

Innovating for equity.

Currently, HRDC offers six fixed route bus lines on weekdays and four fixed route lines on weekends at no cost to riders. That’s helpful in this city where cost of living is 22% higher and wages are 10% lower than the national average. The rising cost of living is particularly challenging for residents on fixed incomes. HRDC, which also provides support for seniors, including emergency shelters, reported that they supported 2,246 individuals in 2022, an all-time high.

In addition to offering free bus routes, the city of Bozeman also encourages commuters to use “active modes of transportation,” biking, walking, public transit, carpool, and vanpool. To incentivize this form of commuting, the city government sponsors a “Guaranteed Ride Home Program,” that reimburses active commuters for taxi or ride-hailing services to get home in case of an emergency up to four times a year.

What’s next?

As Gallatin County transitions to a new transit governance structure, federal funds are being managed by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). As the designated direct recipient of rural area formula and discretionary funds.

“MDT supported and submitted the grant application to the FTA on behalf of HRDC,” MDT Transport Planner Adam Kraft said in an email. “Prior to implementing the new service routes, HRDC will hire a transportation planning organization to re-evaluate the specific route placement, timing, and frequency to ensure these routes are aligned with current community needs, including an emphasis on climate impacts and equitable access for underserved communities.”

HRDC welcomed the transition of the county’s main local bus system to a new transit district.

“This is a great affirmation of support from voters that demonstrates the importance of these services to our community as it continues to grow,” HRDC President/CEO Heather Grenier said in a press release when voters approved the measure that created the new GVUTD.

“Having a structure, and a board, that is focused only on public transportation in our Valley will keep these services strong and ensure that they continue to keep up with the growing need for zero-fare, accessible transportation in the Gallatin Valley,” she said.


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