By spring, Coeur d’Alene will become only the third area in Idaho offering rural commuters the chance to abandon their cars for a van pool.
There appears to be ample interest in hitching a ride from Kellogg or Bonners Ferry to Coeur d’Alene each work day, North Idaho Community Express officials say. It should begin by March or April.
And 1990 census data shows nearly 1,600 workers a day drive to Kootenai County from other counties in North Idaho, estimated Kathryn Tacke of the Idaho Department of Employment. That number is increasing as lumber mills and mines in outlying counties close and people come to Coeur d’Alene to work, she said.
But the Lake City’s green-leaning sister to the south is finding that people are slow to climb aboard.
Moscow is nationally recognized for its 25-year-old voluntary recycling program. It turns 200 tons of trash a month into money and reused materials.
With that ethic, it seems the perfect place to use vans to get people off the road between Lewiston and Moscow, Troy and Moscow and Potlatch and Moscow. The results are decidedly mixed.
The Lewiston to Moscow van took off with 11 riders last month and has room for three more, said Fritz Knorr of the Moscow-based Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute. People pay $75 a month to ride.
The Potlatch to Moscow van - $43 a month per rider - now has just gotten the minimum number of eight and will begin running next week. The Troy route, however, isn’t on the road because of a lack of rider interest in the $38 ticket, Knorr said.
He’s confident about the other routes growing but “I’m really worried about the Troy route.”
Knorr agrees that, given the Palouse’s environmental reputation, the slow start in Troy is a mystery. “It’s not what I expected,” he said.
His best guess is that the 11-mile commute between Troy and Moscow isn’t far enough to get people to give up their automotive autonomy. Knorr will keep trying and if the Troy route doesn’t fly, he feels there is plenty of routes for the vans.
The Boise area has had the service for 15 years. The venture to Coeur d’Alene and Moscow is one of the first to rural cities and “it’s kind of an experiment,” Knorr said.
A federal grant paid 80 percent of the cost for three vans for Coeur d’Alene and three for Moscow. Each community has three vans, and in each case one of the vans is equipped with a wheelchair lift.
The idea is to show large employers how well a self-supporting mass transportation effort works, Knorr said. “It helps employers, making their employees on time for work, making employees more relaxed, it’s cheaper and there’s no parking hassle,” he said.
Coeur d’Alene’s vans will start running in March or April, said Aaron Knight, executive director of North Idaho Community Express. He’s had 35 people on a waiting list for a year and doesn’t expect any problems filling the seats.
There are constant calls about the possibility, he said. In addition, “a lot of people are moving in here from places with commuter-type services,” he said.
Knight is waiting to see where the most demand is before deciding where the vans will run or what the monthly price will be.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: VAN SERVICE North Idaho Community Express will start running three commuter vans from outlying towns to Coeur d’Alene in March or April. The routes will depend upon demand. People can get on a waiting list by calling (208) 664-9769. The Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute is running vans from Lewiston to Moscow, Potlatch to Moscow and is trying to get a van running from Troy to Moscow. For more information call (208) 882-1444.