At 76, Patricia Schneider doesn’t drive anymore.
So when she learned that a free fixed-route bus service was starting in Kootenai County, she marked the ribbon-cutting date on her calendar.
She walked the few blocks from her home Thursday to the Regal Cinemas in Riverstone to listen to a Coeur d’Alene Indian prayer for safe travel on CityLink during a ceremony to launch the new public transit system that connects communities in Kootenai and Benewah counties.
“I’m so glad we’re having a bus service,” Schneider said after the ribbon-cutting. “I can’t go anywhere unless someone drives me or I walk.”
Senior citizens like Schneider are just one demographic served by the bus service that’s being operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Workers trying to save money on commuting costs already are starting to use the urban routes, which began service Tuesday.
“A lot are getting on in Coeur d’Alene to go to work at Wal-Mart,” said Joe Montana, manager of CityLink.
Mary Jacobsen, a community service manager with Aging and Adult Services, said CityLink will help get mobile seniors around town, but won’t be as much help to those seniors who rely on walkers or wheelchairs, even though buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts. People who have trouble walking still may need help getting from bus stops to their destinations, she said.
Still, Jacobsen said, “we’re hoping it’s a big boon for our mobile seniors.” And, she added, she might take it herself to get from her home in Hayden to work in Coeur d’Alene.
The first trip Schneider plans to take is to attend the “Peter Pan” play at Coeur d’Alene High School.
But, as with most public transit systems, CityLink doesn’t meet every rider’s itinerary. The closest stop to the high school is Silver Lake Mall, but that doesn’t mean Schneider will have to walk the final two miles.
The county still has the Kootenai Area Transportation System (KATS), which provides dial-a-ride service for anyone in Kootenai County. KATS requires 24-hour notice, however, and now costs $1 per trip.
By linking CityLink with KATS, transportation planners hope to move more people more efficiently, said John Austin of the Panhandle Area Council, which was hired by the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization to help put together a mass transit system.
More stops could be added. In the two weeks before starting, CityLink added a stop at Tidyman’s in Post Falls and one at Safeway on Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene.
CityLink six buses have 11 stops in Post Falls, Hayden and Coeur d’Alene, and 12 between Coeur d’Alene and DeSmet, in Benewah County. The buses run up to 21 hours per day, seven days a week. Transfer points are at the Riverstone movie complex and the Coeur d’Alene Casino near Worley.
Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin wants to see the service, which already is serving North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, extended to the Workforce Training Center on the western edge of Post Falls.
CityLink could eventually be part of a larger regional system linking to the Spokane Transit Authority and other fixed routes around North Idaho.
“The thing we’d like to see ultimately is to form a regional public transit authority … so you’re able to combine all the resources and plan for them all,” Austin said. “We need to find a way to incorporate Shoshone County and Boundary County.”
Community leaders credited the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for making CityLink possible.
The tribe provided $1.38 million in matching funds for a $1.38 million federal grant awarded to Kootenai County for the urban bus service. The tribe boasts that it’s the first free public transit system in the United States created in cooperation between tribal and local governments.
“This is just the beginning,” said Gus Johnson, chairman of the Kootenai County Commission. “It’s the first domino in all the things that are possible.”
Cliff SiJohn, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s director of cultural awareness programs, told how the modern transit service is an extension of tribal traditions of old.
“Today here we are, the children of those gatherers and hunters who traveled these trails,” he said. “So now we ride this bus together, visit, laugh, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company as human beings. … It belongs to all of us.”
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