Tax-weary property owners may roll their eyes at a proposed tax district to support Streamline public transportation. But there is a strong case to be made for the idea. Although long-term, Streamline officials need to find ways to spread out the burden of paying for the bus service.

Few would argue that Streamline hasn’t been a success. Though met with skepticism when it began a dozen years ago, the service has grown in popularity and is today widely used by a variety of commuters. Streamline buses have provided millions of rides and extended its free services to Manhattan and Three Forks in addition to routes covering Bozeman, Belgrade, Four Corners and Livingston.

And whether we ride the buses or not, we all benefit from Streamline’s success. The service keeps vehicles off streets and roads. And that means less traffic, less pollution and less wear and tear on infrastructure. And that saves taxpayer dollars.

All that speaks to the wisdom of creating a property tax district to provide a reliable funding source for Streamline. Now the service relies on a mix of federal, city and Montana State University funding sources. But things will likely change after next year if the U.S. Census finds Bozeman’s population exceeds 50,000, which is likely to be the case. Meeting that threshold may change the service’s eligibility for federal funds.

With help from state and local governments, Streamline is launching a year-long study of the effectiveness of its current routes and possible changes to those routes. That’s an important step to help Streamline keep up with rapid growth by providing service into to newly developed areas.

But, as part of that study, Streamline should look into alternate sources of funding. A county voter-approved gas tax is possible and could provide some of the needed funding. And eventually Streamline needs to look at charging at least nominal fares for rides. It only makes sense that those who use the buses should help pay for them. And there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Missoula has successfully operated its Mountain Line bus service for 40 years and riders help pay for it through reasonably priced fares.

Yes, a property tax district would help stabilize funding for Streamline in the short-term. But over the long haul, the burden of supporting public transit needs to be spread around.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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