SANDPOINT - Of all the groups affected by the downfall of the North Idaho Community Express, the elderly and infirm are finding the transition most difficult.
The Community Transportation Association of Idaho is preparing to restore intercity connectivity between Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene and city officials are establishing a local bus route throughout Dover, Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai. While those efforts will eventually replace NICE services in the area, elderly residents, particularly those with mobility issues, are concerned about their ability to use the service.
"For me, my knees are so bad that there's no way I could walk out to a bus stop," Ridley Village resident Laura Young said. "There are a lot of us here in that situation."
While NICE was in operation, Young and other individuals with mobility issues were able to give the service 24-hour notice and have the bus pick them up. Transportation cost a single dollar each way, a fee that Young said was easily manageable, especially since it allowed her to make her doctor appointments and do her shopping as her schedule demanded.
But now that NICE has ceased its operations, Young is forced to depend on friends and family whose schedules don't allow for that flexibility. At one point, she had to do her grocery and department store shopping at 4 a.m. to catch a ride before her driver went to work.
"I'm old, so it took me days to recover from that," she said. "At least there weren't any lines at Walmart, though."
According to Young, her neighbors in Ridley Village are similarly disadvantaged. One is blind, while another has difficulty walking.
"She has to get dialysis three times a week, so I don't know what she's doing," Young said.
Ponderay resident Helen Hunt also shares Young's dilemma.
"I don't drive and I can't walk very far," she said. "My daughter and son used to help me, but they're out of state now. So I always relied on NICE to get around."
Both Hunt and Young also miss the NICE drivers, who they say lived up to their employer's acronym with their considerate and helpful natures.
The drivers were happy to make accommodations and provide assistance based on the needs of their passengers.
"They always treated us so well," Young said. "I hope that the people who worked there before will be able to get their jobs back."
The abruptness of NICE's shutdown rippled into the lives of its elderly riders. Young and Hunt both had to cancel doctor appointments and other plans when they received the shocking news that the bus system was no longer available.
"I just called in and got a message that they weren't in operation anymore," Hunt said. "I wish they would have let us know beforehand so we could figure out where we stand."
As transportation officials work to replace services, Young and Hunt said their primary hope is that the new system restores the liberty they once enjoyed.
"When we had NICE, we were independent," Young said. "Taking that away has been a scary experience for us."