September 23, 2009 in Idaho

Free N. Idaho transit thrives under partnership

Citylink will gain new facility thanks to U.S. grant, tribal donation
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Ashlee Littell, a frequent rider of the Citylink service, loads her bike on the front of a bus Friday at the Riverstone transfer station in Coeur d’Alene. The system is funded by the federal government, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Kootenai County cities and Kootenai Medical Center.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Since North Idaho’s Citylink bus service started four years ago, it has transported more than 1.1 million riders throughout Kootenai County and as far south as Tensed and DeSmet.

For free.

The service began in November 2005 with more than $2 million from the federal government, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and North Idaho cities. In that inaugural month, Citylink welcomed 8,000 riders. Today, close to 40,000 passengers use the bus service monthly. Buses leave every 80 minutes from a hub at the Riverstone development in Coeur d’Alene, taking passengers west to Post Falls, north to Hayden and throughout the downtown area.

Last week, the tribe learned it had received another $462,000 from the federal government to build a 6,000-square-foot maintenance facility in Worley on land donated by the tribe, which operates the bus service. That money and $558,000 received earlier will build the new shop at a time when four new buses and a maintenance vehicle are being added to the fleet with additional federal money.

“It remains the only … partnership of its kind that links a tribe with a local government to provide free transit,” said John Austin, public transit coordinator with Panhandle Area Council, which contracts with the county to provide the bus service in the urban areas. “It’s exciting to know we’ve got a model for the rest of the country.”

The system continues to be funded by the federal government, with matching funds from the tribe, and contributions from Kootenai County cities and Kootenai Medical Center, Austin said.

The service began when Kootenai County’s urban population growth triggered a need to provide public transit. In the urban area, the county, the tribe and the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization worked together to create Citylink, Austin said. The rural service south of Worley became a reality thanks to collaboration between the tribe and the Idaho Transportation Department.

In May, the county received a Federal Transit Administration award for having one of the nation’s fastest-growing systems. Monthly reports show that in July, about 40,000 people rode the bus, 6,000 of them students and 3,000 of them senior citizens. Some 3,100 people used the bus to get to work.

They include 18-year-old Amara Koester, of Coeur d’Alene, who takes the bus from her home near Lake City High School to her job at the Coeur d’Alene Resort most days. Her car broke down last year and would take her “about nine paychecks” to fix, she said.

“A lot of people don’t have their license and can’t drive,” she said while waiting for the bus at the Riverstone development.

They also include Nicole Maki, of Coeur d’Alene, who takes the bus to her maintenance job at the Coeur d’Alene Casino. The 19-year-old said she’s from Juneau, Alaska, where “it costs $1.50 one way” to ride the bus.

Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said the public response to the free bus system has been gratifying. “Citylink has achieved one of its goals of improving the quality of life for thousands of people in this region,” he said.


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