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Glacier Says it Will Retain Red Bus Fleet
Park is modifying concession contract to address concerns
More than two dozen Red Buses are stored in a garage in East Glacier. - File photo by Justin Franz/Flathead Beacon
Glacier National Park announced Wednesday that it plans on retaining the entire historic Red Bus fleet. The news came after former employees and park advocates expressed concerns over replacing some of the buses.

This year, the National Park Service is putting Glacier’s concessions contract up for bid, which required the winning concessioner to restore a minimum of 15 Red Buses before 2025 and replace the remaining 18 by 2029. The wording of the contract worried advocates, including members of the Glacier Park Foundation, who say the entire fleet is an important part of the region’s history.

“I think they undervalued the historical significance of the fleet as a whole,” said foundation president John Hagen.

The White Motor Company constructed 35 Model 706 tour buses for use in Glacier National Park between 1936 and 1939. During the first half of the 20th century, the Model 706 buses could be found on the roads in national parks all across the West. Today, only the Glacier fleet remains and 33 Red Buses are operational in 2013.

Glacier Park Inc. owned the buses until 1999, when they were donated to the National Park Service after Ford rebuilt the entire fleet at a cost of nearly $7 million.

The current concessioner is Glacier Park, Inc., which has operated the park’s lodges, gift shops and transportation services, including the Red Bus tours, since 1981 when it was awarded a 25-year contract. Since 2006, the park and the concessioner have worked under annual contract extensions. But now the park is taking bids for a new 16-year contract, which will begin on Jan. 1, 2014.

Originally, the new deal, which is up for bid in March, called for a minimum of 15 Red Buses to be restored by 2025 at a cost of about $4.1 million. The prospectus then stated the remaining 18 buses would need to be replaced by the beginning of 2029 season with alternative fuel vehicles. That didn’t sit well with advocate groups.

“Usually the Park Service is really good about calling for public comment,” Hagen said. “This is an important decision about an historic resource and it was done with no public (input).”

Glacier National Park spokesperson Denise Germann said the new contract required restoring a minimum of 15 buses, but that the park would welcome the restoration of even more.

Hagen questioned whether the fleet would need to be rebuilt in 15 years, considering the buses were restored a decade ago. He said he hoped the park would be more open with how it came to those terms in the contract.

Germann said the park’s primary concern is safety and she expects to see the Red Buses on Glacier’s roads for years to come as long as they are maintained.

“We love the buses and they are an iconic symbol of Glacier,” she said. “We want to make sure the Red Bus experienced is maintained here.”

After a series of letters and complaints to the park, Germann said the park plans on updating the contract requirements in the coming weeks, stating Glacier’s intention to retain the entire fleet. Germann said details of that update would be available by mid-February.

“It’s great to hear about the love for the Red Buses out there,” she said. “The folks sending in their thoughts are passionate about the buses, just like we are, and we’ve been looking into their concerns.”
On 02-03-13, Gators commented....
I hope the Red Buses stay for a long time. Went this past Sept. and it was fun. Glenn was our driver and he was great.  The park is just wonderful.
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