SPOT Bus eyes expansion to Bonners Ferry

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

For the better part of a decade, SPOT has been linking together the communities of Dover, Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai. Thanks to an experimental route currently under way, Bonners Ferry could well join that list.

Launched in April, the SPOT gold route is a once-a-week link to Bonners Ferry that opens access to the Boundary County neighbor to the north. Like all SPOT rides, it is a free service to the public and will run until June 24.

The SPOT Bus. Courtesy photo.

The SPOT Bus. Courtesy photo.

“We’re hoping this will be the start of more connections between the two cities,” said Marion Johnson, manager of SPOT.

An acronym for Selkirks-Pend Oreille Transit, SPOT launched in 2011 and quickly gained a reputation as a model small community transportation system. From the beginning, SPOT’s goal was to provide increased connectivity between North Idaho communities, and the gold route is yet another application of that philosophy. This time, the idea is to ensure that residents of Sandpoint have the access to the benefits of Bonners Ferry and vice versa. That includes access to the Bonners Ferry downtown and a new farmer’s market, as well as the Kootenai River Inn Spa and Casino, which partially funds the route and serves as its primary stop.

“While it wasn’t our primary goal, one of the big benefits is for people wanting to go to the casino,” Johnson said.

It’s just the latest successful partnership between SPOT and a private business, a trail first blazed when the bus system teamed up with Schweitzer Mountain Resort. The bus service has long maintained a winter route linking riders to the Schweitzer Red Barn at the base of the mountain, where they can grab a shuttle to the resort village. For Johnson, the experience provided a model for a successful partnership with private business.

“The more people you can partner with in the private sector, the more successful you often are,” said Johnson.

However, the gold route is also the fruition of long conversations with Boundary County local governments. Both the city of Bonners Ferry and Boundary County have been in talks to bring more elements of SPOT service farther north, and the gold route experiment is the first dipped toe into those waters.

“We were going to do it a few months ago and it never got off the ground,” Johnson said. “This just seemed like the time to do it.”

There’s no word yet whether the gold route will transition into a permanent service. After the completion of the trial, Johnson said she and the route partners will evaluate the next steps. It could become a seasonal service that runs from fall to spring and breaks for summer. Or it could potentially become a year-round service. Nothing is set in stone until the team has time to evaluate its performance after the trial wraps.

“We’re doing three month trial to see if there’s enough ridership to make it be a permanent thing,” Johnson said.

It’s very possible [that the service will continue,]” Johnson said. “To me it looks good, but that’s something we’ll have to talk about with the partners.

The SPOT gold route will run each Saturday until June 24. Stops include Third and Oak at 9:45 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.; Walmart at 9:55 a.m., 11:55 a.m., 1:55 p.m., 3:55 p.m. and 5:55 p.m.; and Kootenai River Inn at 10:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m., 2:35 p.m., 4:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m.

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