BILLINGS — Bus riders traveling west and east between Billings and Missoula have three daily round trips to choose from again, including stops in Butte.
On March 30, Jefferson Lines of Minneapolis picked up one of three of Rimrock Stages’ daily routes and, on Thursday, Salt Lake Express out of Rexburg, Idaho, started driving the other two runs.
The carriers are filling the service void caused two weeks ago when federal regulators shut down Rimrock Stages of Billings for “imminently hazardous” safety violations.
“It was essential that those lines — the east-west routes — got back up because without them we really didn’t have any routes coming out of Butte,” said Jacob Price, operations manager for Salt Lake Express based in Rexburg, Idaho.
And Great Falls is about to get a bus service break.
Starting April 15, Salt Lake Express will run daily buses from Great Falls to Helena and a second bus from Great Falls through Helena to Butte.
To serve the Montana cities, Price said his company is using four motor coaches recently purchased for summer charters. But in another month, the Idaho carrier will have to decide whether to buy more buses for its charter business or quit the Montana runs.
“Our loyalty is with Rimrock Stages. We would do anything to see them succeed,” Price said. “They (the Federal Motor carrier Safety Administration officials) are really cracking down on passenger carriers. It could be any company, anytime.”
But if Rimrock can’t come back financially or pass regulatory muster again, Price said his company would be interested in serving these Montana routes.
Kevin Pursey, marketing director for Jefferson Lines in Minneapolis, also said his company is committed to the Billings-Missoula route it started on March 30.
“We’re staying on this run until they come back and, if for some reason, they don’t come back we’ll stay on it,” he said.
Thorm Forseth, who started Rimrock Stages 37 years ago, said Friday that his company is busy trying to address the federal officials’ safety concerns.
“We’re whipping the buses into shape, No. 1,” he said. “We have not received the final report from FMCSA, so we don’t know if they have any other issues.”
“We are intent upon getting back in business as soon as we can get it done. We’re not quitting,” he said.