The Missoula Urban Transportation District announced Tuesday that the agency will operate the Mountain Line bus system zero-fare beginning January 5, 2015. General Manager Michael Tree with MUTD said the announcement came in response to community partners who have asked the MUTD to participate in a three-year zero-fare demonstration project with a goal of significantly increasing ridership.

"Zero-fare, what that entails is that when you get on the bus, there's not a fare charge," Tree said. "It's the ultimate convenience. It takes all the hassle out of riding the bus. The board of directors approved a resolution and now, community partners have come together and back-filled that with funding from their organization so Missoulians can ride their bus system at no cost."

Tree said there are nearly 40 communities operating zero-fare transit in the U.S. and research shows that zero-fare significantly increases ridership wherever it is tried.

"I think the big thing to remember about the zero-fare project is it's goal is to increase ridership significantly on Mountain Line," Tree said. "There's not any increases in taxes to the public. This was a project where community partners have come together and basically funded the zero-fare opportunity. That's a unique situation. Mountain Line is extremely proud of the community partners and the efforts their making to create an even better bus system."

Tree said MUTD will implement the zero-fare demonstration project to coincide with voter approved improvements which include 15 minute all-day BOLT! service for Route 2, late evening service to 10 p.m. on the four most popular Mountain Line routes, and improvements to service for seniors and people with disabilities.