The Whitefish summer SNOW bus won’t take passengers directly to Glacier National Park this summer.
The SNOW bus service instead will connect with the Glacier Park Commuter bus three times daily for riders wanting to travel to Glacier Park. It will also still continue to take passengers from downtown Whitefish to Whitefish Mountain Resort, though that service will see changes this summer also.
The Big Mountain Commercial Association, the same group that backs the SNOW bus during winter, began a test-run of three years in 2015 of the Glacier Park Express that had a bus running round-trips from Whitefish to the Apgar Visitor Center in Glacier.
Chris Schustrom, who serves on the BMCA board, said the board felt like it made more sense moving forward to work with Eagle Transit, which is running the Glacier Commuter.
“The board decided it would be more sustainable if the SNOW bus tied into the Eagle Transit bus,” he said. “The majority of the board felt like it didn’t make sense to keep running our bus if Eagle Transit was going to expand its service.”
Schustrom said the three years of the Glacier Park Express were still successful.
“By running those summers, it helped Eagle Transit to decide to run to Glacier Park,” he said. “It’s appropriate for them to do that as they are the transit authority.”
Rick Cunningham, executive director of BMCA, agreed that the pilot run of the route to Glacier resulted in useful information.
“It showed us that there is a want for transportation beyond what we have,” he said. “Many of our visitors come from metro areas and they expect transit services.”
While the association decided it didn’t want to duplicate service by continuing its bus alongside the Eagle Transit service, he added, the situation is fluid and increased ridership in the future could call for a need for the Glacier Park Express to return.
To get to Glacier, the SNOW bus will take riders to a stop, where they can transfer to Eagle Transit’s Glacier Commuter bus to travel to the Apgar Visitor Center. The Glacier Commuter picks up riders in Whitefish at Whitefish Mountain Mall and makes return stops at the mall and the Whitefish Community Library.
The SNOW bus will also make one afternoon run to Columbia Falls to pick up passengers returning from Glacier Park to Whitefish.
The Glacier Commuter bus also makes stops in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse picking up passengers heading to and from the park.
Dave Novak, Eagle Transit manager, said the Glacier commuter bus has previously run to the Park, but now is stopping in Whitefish.
“Eagle Transit operates the transit system in the park,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to serve two types of people — the seasonal employees who want an in expensive way to commute and the people who are tired of finding a place to park.”
The summer SNOW bus that runs between Whitefish and Whitefish Mountain Resort schedule has also been updated beginning this summer.
Ridership numbers last summer prompted the change, Cunningham said.
“We will make more trips to the mountain and begin earlier in the day,” he said.
The first bus of the day will makes stops in Whitefish at around 7:30 a.m. and the number of pickup and drop-off times throughout the day have more than tripled. Bus stops in Whitefish are the mall, the library and lodging establishments. On the mountain, the bus stops at the Base Lodge and in the Resort Village.
The summer SNOW bus and the Glacier Park Commuter bus both run July 1 through Sept. 3.
Rides on the SNOW bus to the resort are free.
Tickets on the Glacier Commuter are $5 per person over age 12 for round-trip to Glacier. Bus riders are still required to purchase a Glacier Park pass or show proof of an annual pass.
For more information on the SNOW bus, visit http://bigmtncommercial.org/ or for information on the Eagle Transit bus service visit, https://flathead.mt.gov/eagle.