Airport shuttle service starting

SANDPOINT — The world is closer than ever with the imminent opening of a new shuttle service to the Spokane airport.

Priced at $5 per trip from Sandpoint to Spokane, the SMS Community Shuttle will feature stops in Sandpoint, Priest River, Newport and Spokane and bring easy access to public east-to-west travel for Panhandle residents. Service begins July 1.

In addition to the obvious benefit to Bonner County, Community Transportation Association of Idaho District 1 mobility manager Clif Warren said the service should be useful for Boundary County as well.

“The service has been getting a lot of interest from people in Bonners Ferry,” he said.

Branded the SMS Community Shuttle, the service will make two stops a day in all four communities on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The service is operated by transportation company Special Mobility Services, but operators have taken care in name selection to avoid  assumptions that the shuttle is only for individuals with special needs.

In Sandpoint, the shuttle will arrive and depart at the Bonner County Public Works building at the corner of Division and Ontario streets. This area will serve as a park and ride environment, where individuals can leave their cars to catch the shuttle and return to them once they arrive back home.

As for the other cities, the shuttle will pick up and drop off at Safeway in Newport and Mitchell’s IGA and the senior center in Priest River. In Spokane, the shuttle can pick up or drop off at the Bank of America on Riverside and Howard, Spokane International Airport, any of the major hospitals including the VA Hospital, North Point Walmart, 29th and Regal, Fancher and Sprague or Trent and Fancher.

The best way to use the shuttle is to call in advance. Open seating is available as capacity allows, but reserved seating takes priority. Shuttle organizers can also potentially arrange for special pickups in the case of disabled individuals.

Across the board, the service is priced to be affordable across all income levels, Warren said. 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.

Those fares are possible thanks to a partnership between the Washington and Idaho transportation departments. Grants from Washington will fund that state’s side of the service, while Idaho grants cover Panhandle routes.

The original scope of the project was much smaller when planning began in January 2012. A small grant allowed paved the way for a route between Priest River and Newport. However, planners quickly realized the potential for the service.

“It occurred to us at one of our coordination meetings that it would make sense and meet strategic goals to extend the service,” Warren said.

The target date to launch the service was April 1, but some questions over the security of the Washington funding delayed the process slightly. Now that the community shuttle has funding in the bag until 2015, however, planners are eager to get the wheels rolling.

“It’s starting a couple of months later than anticipated, but now it’s ready to go,” Warren said.

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