SANDPOINT — A push from U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Washington, D.C., staffers minimized complications in the effort to restore rural bus services in Bonner County.
With the death of the North Idaho Community Express, Community Transportation Association of Idaho District 1 mobility manager Cliff Warren has been seeking a partner to rebuild rural services. However, unexpected complications from the Federal Transit Administration diminished his hopes to have a new system in place by the end of the month.
“Essentially, the FTA has a list called the Program of Projects that you need to be on to access their funding stream,” Warren said. “Even though there are plenty of organizations that would be happy to help us, that requirement limited us to working with service providers already on the Program of Projects. And there weren’t very many.”
Outside of finding an organization already on the PoP, an outcome that looked unlikely, Warren’s only other option was to help a service provider get on the list. And that process involved a lengthy, grueling application procedure.
Without reasonable recourse, Warren called Risch’s office to seek assistance at the federal level.
“Cliff Warren brought the matter to our attention, and we had a discussion about what could possibly be done,” said Brad Hoaglun, one of Risch’s staff members. “One option that we arrived at involved easing the process of getting new providers on that list.”
In response to Warren’s concerns, Risch wrote a letter to the FTA. He explained the seriousness of the situation and requested that they temporarily relax the policy to kick-start new services. The FTA decided to honor Risch’s request.
“This will ease the regulatory process to get a new provider on the PoP temporarily,” Warren said. “It will still probably take a week or two longer than I hoped, but at least we’re making progress.”
According to Hoaglun, Risch and his staff responded enthusiastically to the news that the FTA had agreed to compromise.
“The FTA was extremely responsive to our request,” he said. “We really want to give credit to the administration for recognizing that there was a need in the area and responding to it.”