Bozeman’s free, public bus may be in financial trouble if the city doesn’t provide more money from its annual budget.

Streamline asked the city for $200,000 to pay for operational costs. In the city manager’s proposed budget for the general fund, the bus service would receive $150,000.

Program director Sunshine Ross asked the City Commission on Monday to consider increasing the amount because $150,000 would not be enough.

“It would be a struggle to keep current operations going,” Ross said Tuesday.

Commissioners will vote to adopt a budget June 24 and can make adjustments beforehand.

The bus service is part of HRDC and gets money from Montana State University, the Montana Department of Transportation and others. The city has given Streamline more money in the past as one-time payments.

City finance director Kristin Donald said the money allocated for Streamline was calculated based on its past financial statements and the money it gets from other organizations.

The city manager’s office has a formalized request process for city money. It asks for nonprofit designation, a specific dollar amount, how the requested amount will benefit residents and how much money the organization is getting from others.

Ross said Streamline had a number of reasons for its request for $200,000. For example, Streamline owns older buses that require maintenance and upkeep. They haven’t been replaced since 2007.

“It’s a budget line item that’s not easily predictable,” Ross said.

Streamline is also planning on hiring a consultant to rework its bus routes. The current routes were designed nearly 15 years ago, and Ross said they need to be updated in response to Bozeman’s growth.

Finally, Ross said Streamline is struggling to employ drivers competitively. She said because bus drivers hold commercial driver’s licenses, they can make more money working for construction or moving companies.

If Streamline has to cut services and drivers’ hours, it makes the job even less competitive.

Ross said the company can’t control all of its costs because maintenance and fuel prices are unpredictable. If Streamline can’t find more money, Ross said its newest additions, like Sunday bus service, would be cut.

HRDC has proposed the city establish an Urban Transit District to collect property taxes to expand Streamline’s operations.

Ross said she’s hopeful that proposal will move forward, and that Streamline will be able to negotiate for more money in the city’s final budget.

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