Idaho

Kootenai County bringing back paratransit service

Lydia Sokol and her husband, Joe, talk about the free bus service that will be offered to disabled people in Kootenai County starting in August. The transportation will be provided through the use of federal funds. (Kathy Plonka)
Lydia Sokol and her husband, Joe, talk about the free bus service that will be offered to disabled people in Kootenai County starting in August. The transportation will be provided through the use of federal funds. (Kathy Plonka)

Joe and Lydia Sokol say it might be nice to visit downtown Coeur d’Alene from time to time to do a little shopping, then sit outside and have a snack.

It’s not far – only about three to four miles from the Coeur d’Alene home they share with their daughter and son-in-law – but it may as well be 100 miles away. At 82 and 91, respectively, Joe and Lydia no longer drive due to health problems. Family members help out, but the Sokols hate to impose.

Starting Aug. 1, that will change for Kootenai County residents like them. That’s the day the county will reinstate its free, door-to-door transit service for people with disabilities. The paratransit service will be provided in the same basic service areas as the free Citylink bus system. Paratransit riders can be picked up anywhere within three-quarters of a mile of a Citylink route.

“This is going to be a blessing,” said Lydia Sokol, who also would like to use the service for grocery shopping and to accompany her husband of 64 years to his dental appointments. “We’re trapped like this, no vehicles. This way, you’re opening the door for us.”

For four years, the Sokols have used Kootenai Health’s free bus service to get to and from doctor appointments and speak highly of it. They hope Kootenai County’s new system will be just as effective.

Previously, Kootenai County contracted with North Idaho Community Express and Kootenai Area Transit System to provide the service. However, it was discontinued in December due in part to the loss of a federal grant. At that time, the county commissioners and public transportation officials held a news conference to announce that they were seeking a solution to revive the system.

In April, the county hired Christine Fueston as administrator for Federal Transit Administration grants. Fueston said enough federal funding remained from a previous grant to operate the paratransit system for three months. She also is applying for the federal funds the county expects to pay for the service into the future. The county has five vehicles that were used by the previous operator.

The county is contracting for six months with First Transit, which also provides paratransit service to the Spokane Transit Authority. It will then put out a request for proposals to find a permanent provider, Fueston said.

The county is required by law to provide a free paratransit system due to the existence of Citylink, a fixed-route system, Fueston said. Depending on available space, she said, people with disabilities can take the paratransit system anywhere they want within the service area. They just need to call 24 hours ahead of time to request a ride.

“People say, ‘What can I do for my trip?’ ” Fueston said. “You can go to the movies. You can go get your hair cut. You can go (do) whatever you want to do.”



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