Bus system drives forward

SANDPOINT — A pair of planned bus routes won’t bring cities like Boise and Spokane any closer, but they’ll certainly be a lot more accessible.

Based on plans first announced last year, work is moving forward on an east-to-west bus route ending with a stop at the Spokane Airport and a north-to-south route connecting the Panhandle to Boise. Planning on both routes originally began last summer but have since advanced at different rates, with the east-west system on track to debut in the spring. Meanwhile, District 1 mobility manager Clif Warren said the north-south system still needs a service provider and will probably launch in the fall.

Warren has recently been occupied in the organizational aspects of the north-to-south route, which is projected to run from Bonners Ferry through Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene. From there, the route will hit the major stops along the way, ultimately ending the trip in Boise. According to the original concept, the system will feature twice-a-day service and operate every day of the year. A proposal submitted last year by Salt Lake Express, a company initially interested in providing the service, estimated that an average ticket would probably run around $35, while a separate proposal submitted by Northwestern Trailways projected a fare between 25 and 30 cents per mile.

The current priority is to identify a service provider for that route. According to Warren, a Wednesday meeting among transportation officials resulted in a process being established for service providers to issue proposals. Warren expects that a provider will be awarded the contract around July, with the service going into effect a few months later — possibly September.

As for the east-west route, the process has shifted into a moderately higher gear. Warren believes that the route, which will connect Priest River, Sandpoint, Newport and the Spokane Airport, could go into service as early as April. That’s good news for those who want access to national and international flights without the hassle and expense of dealing with a vehicle, and it may be even better news for fans of frugal travel. According to the original projections, it will only cost $1.50 to travel from Sandpoint to Priest River, 50 cents from Priest River to Newport, $3 from Newport to Spokane and $5 from Sandpoint to Spokane.

All that remains is to package the service for the public. According to Warren, the service provider, Special Mobility Services, is concerned they may be perceived as a business only offering rides to disabled individuals. They will likely use a new business name for the route — SMS Transit is one working title. The name and other promotional considerations will likely be worked out in the coming months.

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