Citylink changes planned

Tribe: Funding model no longer sustainable

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A Citylink bus travels along its route Tuesday in Coeur d'Alene. The bus system is need of additional funding to maintain its current schedule and bus fleet.

Funding issues have prompted the need for changes with Citylink, but it's too early to determine what the specific changes will be for the popular free bus service.

"We are committed to the long-term success of Citylink, but as we've said for some time now, its current model is not sustainable," said Heather Keen, public relations director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the largest contributor to Citylink.

Keen said it's too early to comment on what the changes may look like, which may include the possibility of charging passengers a fee or cutting routes, but there are "multiple" options on the table.

"We are working on putting together and evaluating options based on ridership numbers and any changes to Citylink will be made in a way that affects the smallest number of riders possible," she said.

A public meeting may be held in March to further discuss the issue.

Tammy Jones, who has ridden Citylink occasionally, recently pondered possible changes to the service while waiting at the hub in Coeur d'Alene.

"I'd really hate to see it cut," the Coeur d'Alene woman said. "I have friends who use it quite often and, with the economy being the way it is, a lot of people rely on it to get around. I hope they can keep it going as much as possible because it really does benefit the public."

Citylink, which offers routes in the metropolitan area of Kootenai County as well as to the Tribe's Coeur d'Alene Casino, has been in operation since 2006. Ridership averaged 48,000 riders per month in 2011.

A year ago the Tribe asked its transit partners at the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes members from area cities, the county, state, Tribe and highway districts, to help explore alternative funding sources to maintain Citylink as a free transit system at its current service levels.

"We believed the best possible solution was to have local partners who benefit from Citylink help contribute financially to the long-term viability of public transportation in Kootenai County," Keen said. "Unfortunately, to date, we have received no offers to help sustain Citylink."

As a condition to receiving the federal grant that partially funds Citylink, the Tribe is required to contribute $560,000 of matching funds to the transit system. However, the Tribe currently contributes about $640,000 in additional funding as "overmatch," bringing the total to $1.2 million annually.

"We cannot continue to support it at this level," Keen said.

Without funding help, the Tribe has been forced to eliminate the overmatch in the coming months and bring Citylink service more in line with the current level of funding available through the federal grants and required matching funds.

"At this point, the next step will be to adjust the service in a way that allows us to provide a level of service that is proportionate to the funding available," Keen said.

Citylink is a partnership among several agencies. The county owns the vans, but the Tribe and federal grants are the lone funding sources for operations.

Other agencies assist. For example, local chambers spearheaded a bus bench project that secured donations to get the benches built, installed and sponsored.

Local municipalities contributed a combined $87,000 toward public transportation this year, but only paratransit services receive the funds.

"The Tribe does not see any of this money since it is used for paratransit, not for Citylink operations," Keen said.

Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin, who sits on the KMPO Board, said Post Falls is a Citylink member, offers a stop at City Hall and has partnered with the Tribe on efforts regarding the service. But it has its hands tied on funding.

"The dilemma of taxing authorities is that they have already established their annual budgets, and for most, there is no wiggle room," he said.

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