Public Bus Systems More Costly, Environmentally Damaging


Study: Public Bus Systems More Costly, Environmentally Damaging

BOZEMAN – A study released today by the Montana Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Bozeman, shows that public transit systems in the state of Montana are both more costly than other means of transportation and more damaging to the environment.

The study, titled Public Transit in Montana specifically looked at the costs and environmental impacts of public transit systems in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, and Missoula.

While the average cost of driving in Montana is less than 23 cents per passenger mile, the study shows the average cost of public transit in the state totals more than $1 per passenger mile.

Urban buses are also found to use more energy than private vehicles and release on average more than twice the amount of carbon emissions per passenger mile as a light truck.

The study provides alternatives for public transportation, including proposals for vouchers, shared taxis, also known as jitneys, and privatization that have the potential to meet urban transportation needs at lower cost and with less environmental impact.

“We’re not just cursing the darkness with this study. We’ve identified a disconnect between what people are being told about the supposed benefits of city busses and what is actually happening; and we’ve proposed serious, workable alternatives that would save taxpayer dollars, reduce environmental costs, and provide much more choice to those who want or need public transportation.” said MPI President Carl Graham. “Cities and counties in Montana need to decide if they’re in the business of moving people or of running busses,” he added.

The study is authored by Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole. Mr. O’Toole’s analysis of urban land-use and transportation issues, outlined in his 2001 book, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, has influenced decisions in cities across the country.


To view the full report or for more information people can go to



The full study compares cost and subsidies per passenger mile for the Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, and Missoula bus and paratransit systems to average driving costs per passenger mile in Montana. It then compares energy consumption and C02 emissions per passenger mile of each city’s bus and paratransit systems to those of an average light car, average light truck, and Toyota Prius.


Mr. O’Toole’s bio can be found at:


Montana’s Bus Systems Harmful to Taxpayers and Environment

Montana’s Bus Systems Harmful to Taxpayers and Environment

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute


We’re often told that public buses are the most cost effective and energy efficient means of transportation available. But a recent MPI study found that this perception doesn’t hold true in rural states like Montana. When compared to driving private automobiles, public transit in Montana costs more and takes a greater toll on the environment per passenger mile than does driving that same mile in a private vehicle.

In addition, high subsidies on public transit systems siphon away nearly half of Montana’s gas taxes that would otherwise be available to build, improve or maintain our public roads. These subsidies support a system that Montanans use to fulfill far less than 10 percent of our travel needs, despite the fact that it’s cheap or even “free” to the rider.

The cost per passenger mile of driving in Montana is substantially lower than that of public transit, and is mostly borne by the person doing the driving. Contrary to popular belief, there are few federal or state subsidies to highways. To the extent that subsidies do exist, local governments are the primary source.

The average cost of driving in Montana—including subsidies —is a little under 23 cents per passenger mile, or about a penny above the national average. The average cost of public transit in Montana, meanwhile, is about $1.76 per passenger mile, with more than 90 percent of that cost subsidized by non-transit users.

Using a different measure, Montana transit riders pay an average of less than 40 cents each time they board a bus, while taxpayers kick in an average of more than $5 to support each of those trips.

Public transit also takes a heavy toll on the environment. Montana’s urban buses use on average twice the energy and release more than twice the carbon emissions into the atmosphere per passenger mile as a light truck. A Toyota Prius would be nearly 6 times more efficient.

The major problem is that urban buses in Montana run mostly empty, filling just one-sixth of their seats. Bus systems in larger cities nationally are much more efficient per passenger mile for the obvious reason that they carry more passengers per mile. As a high mileage, low population state, we have to decide if want to spend and pollute more by promoting an ill-suited policy “solution,” or if maybe we should look at other options.

It’s quite clear that Montanans who are concerned about either public expenditures or climate change and air pollution should be looking for alternatives to traditional urban transit models that rely on buses and scheduled routes to move people around. The question is whether we impose a solution by forcing more people to ride buses, or whether we seek choices that take into account local conditions while still meeting the needs of those who want or need public transportation.

There are many options available to help decrease the costs and environmental impacts of public transit in Montana. Removing state and federal government bias toward high cost, high emissions vehicles that run scheduled routes regardless of demand and allowing communities to tailor their transit programs to local conditions should be one of the first steps toward creating more cost effective and environmentally friendly systems. Other options include smaller vehicles or shared on-demand taxis, privatization, and vouchers for those who need assistance. These types of systems would take people where they want to go when they want to get there at much less cost and with a much lower environmental impact. In short, cities need to decide if they’re in the business of moving people or of running buses.



For Immediate Release

599 Words


The referenced study can be found at

Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508


Bozeman Set To Target Kyoto Environmental Goals

By Brett Buonamici

Bozeman, Mont. — A local environmental task force has been assembled to make recommendations for emission controls that could potentially impact private businesses and area households.

Bozeman is one of a handful of cities in the state to sign on to a movement that seeks to voluntarily comply with environmental standards proposed in the controversial Kyoto Protocol. Other communities that have signed on include Billings, Missoula, and Red Lodge.

Current Bozeman city commissioner and mayor-elect Sean Becker said he would favor more environmental regulation as the economy improves.

“Personally, I would love to see more regulations but because of the economic climate, the regulations have to come up from the community,” he said.

A Seattle mayor launched the nation-wide movement after President George W. Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol into law in 2005. Bozeman signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2006.

Seattle has subsequently enforced “car-free” days, bonfire bans, enacted stricter construction regulations, passed “green” light bulb subsidies and purchased a new city fleet of Prius’s in order to meet their goals under the plan.

Former Bozeman city employee Hattie Baker recently assembled a roster of representatives from public and private organizations to serve on the task force. The mayor and city commission recently approved the selections and the first meeting of the task force is scheduled for November 12. Baker said the monthly meetings will be held in Bozeman’s city hall and they will be open to the public, but the amount of public participation they will allow has yet to be determined.

Baker’s official title will be sustainability consultant. Her salary will be paid by a grant from the New Priorities Foundation, a now defunct organization whose website lists their mailing address in Half Moon Bay, CA. The CCAP is scheduled to be completed by November 2010. However Baker’s grant will expire in February 2010. City officials are exploring additional grants to bridge the gap.

The Mayors Agreement that Bozeman signed in 2006 led to the city writing a Municipal Climate Action Plan (MCAP). The MCAP was aimed at targeting city emissions from buildings like City Hall. The MCAP set the goal for the city to reduce CO2 emissions by 15% below the 2000 levels by 2020. The goal for the city to reduce emissions does not take development or population growth into account.

Todd Myers is Director of the Washington Policy Center for the Environment, a non-partisan research center headquartered in Seattle. Myers said Bozeman would likely have to take “extreme measures” to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol.

“Bozeman will have a much harder time to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol than Seattle,” Myers said. “Seattle already gets 95% of its energy from renewable sources, mostly hydroelectricity. For Bozeman to meet the goals in the Kyoto Protocol, they would have to take drastic measures in regards to their coal usage.”

Missoula has signed the mayoral agreement as well, and Missoula mayor John Engen has said the agreement has set a tone for the city more than anything. Pushing for awareness and basic conservation efforts has been the main focus so far.


“It has been more symbolic than anything. We need to be as responsible as we can in tempering emissions.”

Engen also said there is not currently a “green” budget, or a taxpayer funded pool to promote new city initiatives.


Missoula has created an advisory board to promote sustainable “green blocks” and the city has worked with Northwest Energy to audit the energy use of homes in the city. The city has been promoting the use of green technologies like higher quality insulation for homes and buildings, low flow toilets and more efficient light bulbs, but no mandatory measures have been implemented.

Commissioner Jeff Rupp supports Bozeman’s current environmental initiatives such as recycling and “green” construction, but would not necessarily support more intrusive measures. Rupp said he would “not vote for something that forces people to do something.”

Rupp also said he is familiar with many members of the task force and does not foresee any extreme environmental measures being introduced. He said, “I don’t think (the taskforce) will put forth a lot of regulations.”

Bozeman commission members Eric Bryson and Jeff Krauss did not respond to an email request for comment.

Once the CCAP is written, the Bozeman Mayor and City Commission will review the task force recommendations and make decisions on what, if any, measures to take to reduce emissions.


The Montana Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. To find out more visit us on the web at

Michael Noyes

Investigative Reporter

Montana Policy Institute

Phone : (406) 219-0510 Montana Policy Institute

67 W Kagy Blvd Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

Press Release