Plummer, Idaho – It was 2005 when the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in conjunction with the Kootenai County Metropolitan Organization (KCMO) began free bus service called Citylink, between the small towns on the reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Casino, and the much larger towns north of the reservation. It was a unique partnership, never before attempted in Idaho.
The busses are owned by the county but the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and federal grants provide all the funding. The success of Citylink has gone far beyond what was estimated when planning was instituted and service begun. At that time an estimate for future growth suggested a maximum of 360,000 rides a year. Ridership has doubled since just 2007 alone and 555,565 riders used the service in 2010.
The success of Citylink as a free bus service has also dramatically increased operating costs and those costs have been falling primarily on the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The tribe spent $1.2 million in 2010 alone. Another $850,000 was received in federal grants last year, but this also represents a drop of $50,000 from the prior year. The service has been so well received by the general public that there is no plan to reduce the number of routes. But increased success means increased costs--operational costs have increased 39 percent, over half a million dollars, since 2007.
The Coeur d’Alene tribe feels it’s now time for others who benefit from the service to step forward and pay more of the operating expenses.
“It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work before it’s too late,” tribal chairman Chief Allan wrote to KCMO. “I believe there are other ways to fund our local public transportation needs, some of which may involve adding or increasing the contributions of city and county governments, North Idaho College, the local chambers of Commerce and Kootenai Medical Center.”
Marc Stewart, public relations director for the tribe, explained the tribe remains committed to Citylink but points out that commitment doesn’t include a blank check. The towns of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, and Hayden Lake, all outside the reservation, provide the majority of the riders and none of those towns currently have any other public bus service. Stewart also said the tribe had contributed more than $1 million above its required match for federal grants over the previous two years.
Stewart added, “the reason the tribe has funded Citylink is to help the entire community. It’s to provide transportation for people who really can’t afford a vehicle. It gets them to work, to school, to the store. It helps everyone. It lowers traffic on the roads, which in turn reduces wear and tear on the roads and is good for the environment to have fewer cars on the roads. It’s part of the tribe’s philosophy of giving back, and that’s why they’ve done it.
Chairman Allan concluded his letter by asking the KMPO board to work closely with the Tribe’s Public Works Director to seek alternative funding solutions to keep Citylink viable.