Jefferson Lines eyes expansion through tour groups at new Billings station

BILLINGS, Mont. -- The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation was on hand as Jefferson Lines' opened its newest bus station in Billings. Charlie Zelle's presence was hardly unusual, because he's formerly a third-generation pre...

Jefferson Lines' Charles Zelle, left, and Steven P. Woelfel talk about the company's new location in Billings on Friday. Billings Gazette photo.


BILLINGS, Mont. -- The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation was on hand as Jefferson Lines'  opened  its newest bus station in Billings.

Charlie Zelle’s presence was hardly unusual, because he’s formerly a third-generation president and CEO of the family-owned, Minneapolis-based bus line.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton selected Zelle for his present job in late 2012; Zelle has left the management of Jefferson Lines to president and CEO Steve Woelfel. Zelle recuses himself when matters affecting the company - for which he remains board chairman - come before the transportation board.


“I know,” he said a few minutes before Friday’s open house began, “that I am the first transportation commissioner to be a registered travel agent.”

Zelle and Woelfel snipped the ribbon held by members of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Trail Blazers, formally dedicating the 13,482-square-foot bus station. The station is now staffed around the clock and has a kids’ play center, concessions, free Wi-Fi, arcade games, a four-bay bus maintenance center - and a real-time bus schedule monitor next to a big screen television.

The station, like all other Jefferson Line facilities, is accessible for people with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jefferson Lines employs about 25 people in Billings and has a national workforce of about 225.

“A beautiful building, comfortable and clean and near the heart of the city, makes a real difference in customers’ experience,” Zelle said. “When you come into a building like this, you feel some confidence that you’ll be safe and well taken care of.”

Remodeling the new location took about six months. The company declined to disclose the purchase price and remodeling costs. The company looked at multiple options before selecting the Fourth Avenue North real estate.

Jefferson is counting on its experience with tour groups to help grow its business in Billings and other Montana communities it serves, including Bozeman/Belgrade, Butte, Glendive, Livingston, Miles City, Missoula and Sidney, Zelle said.

“Group travel is part of our vision and mission,” Zelle said. “It’s part of our business presence.”


The investment to repurpose the former Underriner Motors dealership “shows our commitment to the state of Montana and our belief in its increasing economic growth and prosperity,” Zelle said.

Each year Jefferson Lines serves between 65,000 and 70,000 passengers in and out of Billings, Woelfel said.

In the 160 communities in 13 states in which Jefferson Lines operates, passengers travel 7.2 million miles annually. The company also provides direct connections via other carriers to thousands of destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Woelfel said the company appreciates “our many partners,” including both the city of Billings and the state of Montana, that have “supported our effort to provide high quality bus service to many Montana communities with connections throughout the country.”

“We serve America’s heartland,” Woelfel said. “Those are the values that we know.”


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