Let’s say you live in an isolated town of 130 souls, don’t have a car and want to work 25 miles up the highway. Good luck with that – unless you live in Tensed, Idaho, and covet a job in Coeur d’Alene. In that case, you can relax.
Just hop the free CityLink bus.
The unusual service began in 2005 and has gathered impressive momentum. Its origins were in the 2000 census, which designated Kootenai County an urban area and thus in need of a public transit system. This caused considerable consternation among political officials, including Dixie Reid, who was a Coeur d’Alene council member and chairwoman of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization.
She said at the time, “It just scared me to death, because I didn’t think we could do it. I’m still just amazed that we pulled it off.”
The key to success was forming a partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which put up the money necessary for the federal matching dollars. The Coeur d’Alene Casino was important, because it served as the de facto hub and much of the tribal money was raised there. But today the service stretches from DeSmet to Hayden to Post Falls, with several North Idaho cities and Kootenai Medical Center kicking in money. Ridership has grown fivefold, from 8,000 to nearly 40,000 a month. There’s a hub now at Riverstone development in Coeur d’Alene, where buses depart every 80 minutes.
The good news keeps rolling in. Last week, the tribe learned it would be getting enough money from the feds to build a maintenance facility in Worley. CityLink is also getting four new buses with federal money. Back in May, the feds recognized the system as one of the fastest growing in the nation.
North Idaho is proud of the system, and it has every right to be. The cooperation and coordination between the tribe and municipal governments is unique and ought to serve as a model for other regions struggling to initiate public transportation. The facts and figures tell a positive story about the increased quality of life. But CityLink has brought an emotional lift, too.
Back in 2005, Reid told a Benewah County woman that the bus would go all the way to a favorite store in Post Falls. The woman teared up, knowing she wouldn’t have to seek a ride for that once-a-month trip to a grocery store in Moscow.
Thousands of other people have discovered new freedoms and opportunities because of the increased mobility provided by CityLink.
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