Shuttle service starts Monday

SMS Community Shuttle afternoon driver Tom Stone prepares to hit the road west to Priest River, Newport and Spokane. (Photo by CAMERON RASMUSSON)

SANDPOINT — The SMS Community Shuttle launched services Monday morning, bringing new connectivity to Sandpoint, Priest River, Newport and Spokane.

With trips from Sandpoint to the Spokane Airport priced at $5, transportation officials and service managers are hoping the shuttle will make life easier for travelers catching a flight, individuals scheduling doctor appointments or Idaho residents out to enjoy a weekend in the city.

On the flip-side, dispatch supervisor Dave Hutchisson expects the SMS Community Shuttle will be a popular option for Spokane residents looking to hit the slopes during the winter. Either way, project managers have been bowled over by the response to the project.

“It has been astronomical,” Hutchisson said. “We’ve just been flooded with calls asking questions about the service.”

In fact, route operator Special Mobility Services is worried it may grow too quickly. If interest in the service outpaces equipment capabilities, Hutchisson said they may have to turn people away, and that’s an outcome they don’t want to see happen. To prevent that, they’re investigating the possibility of bringing in a larger vehicle to handle the runs.

For now, however, lack of seats shouldn’t be a problem, according to District 1 mobility manager Clif Warren. The SMS Community Shuttle offered a handful of rides on its first day of operation, with Sandpoint resident Tom Kersey being the first to board Monday morning. Warren expects the service to gradually gain traction over the coming months, especially considering the high level of interest.

The SMS Community Shuttle makes two stops a day Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in each city on the route. Sandpoint residents can catch the shuttle at the Bonner County Public Works building, located on the corner of Division and Ontario. Riders are free to park their vehicles at the location and pick them up when they return.

The service aims to be affordable across all income levels, according to Warren. One-way fares run $1.50 from Sandpoint to Priest River, $0.50 from Priest River to Newport, $3 from Newport to Spokane and $5 from Sandpoint to Spokane.

The Washington and Idaho transportation departments collaborated on the project to keep fares to a minimum. Washington grants fund that state’s side of the service, while Idaho grants do the same for the Panhandle.

The SMS Community Shuttle can work to accommodate special needs riders or offer flexibility in unusual situations. To make those arrangements or to reserve a spot aboard the shuttle, it’s best to call service operators at 1 (877) 264-RIDE (7433) or (509) 534-7171.

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