Glacier Park looks to privatize free shuttle operation

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Glacier National Park is looking for a private company to operate its free shuttle service in 2020.

The Park last month issued a “sources sought” request on the federal business opportunities website to hire drivers and operate the shuttle.

Flathead County was operating the shuttle in a cooperative agreement with the Park since its inception in 2007. But last fall, the county, claiming the fleet wasn’t being adequately funded, pulled out of the agreement.

Glacier would continue to own the shuttle fleet, which consists of 25 Sprinter-style diesel powered 14-seat buses, eight Glaval 29-seat buses, two International Colonial 23-seat buses, and one Ford F450 15-seat bus, according to the proposal.

The age of the fleet ranges from 2006 to 2019 with mileages between 1,855 and 165,000 miles. The Park Service will be responsible for all licensing associated with the transit vehicles.

The Park Service estimates it will take about 41 people to operate the system, including 35 drivers.

The request actually closed last month. The next step is to solicit bids for actual operation, Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said. Glacier officials have said previously that they have about $1 million in reserves to operate the shuttle this year.

Having a private company operate a transit fleet is common practice in Glacier. Xanterra Parks and Resorts, for example, operates the red bus fleet. The fleet is owned by the Park Service, but the company runs the service and maintains them, with Park Service oversight. Xanterra, however, charges to ride the reds.

The red buses in the next few years will undergo a complete overhaul, with new engines and other upgrades. Xanterra is paying for that under its contract. A prototype bus was finished this winter, but reportedly went back to the shop for tweaks on the dash design, which is supposed to look like the historic dash of the buses.

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