Hitchin’ a Ride
From the Winter 2022 Issue
Funky bus service will get you where you need to go
You’re headed for Schweitzer from Sandpoint. The car is all snug in the garage (or snowed in) and you don’t feel like digging it out. Make your way to a SPOT stop and catch a bus—for free. Selkirk-Pend Oreille Transit routes run from Dover to Kootenai (Green Line) and, in winter, from Sandpoint to the Schweitzer lot at the Red Barn (Blue Line). In the non-ski seasons, the Blue Line turn-around is at the fairgrounds on Boyer.
You can ride the Blue Line to the Red Barn, catch a SPOT bus to the mountain and be delivered to the resort’s “front door” in less than an hour. The Blue Line starts running at 6:24 am. If you are a first chair addict, you can be on the mountain by 7:30. No parking hassles, no fuel expense, no need to even pay attention except to the schedule times. For free!
Green line riders take a bit longer to get to Schweitzer. The wait at transfer stations—Division and Oak, Third and Oak, Third and Alder in Sandpoint; Bonner Mall and Walmart—averages 25 minutes. But, large parking lots at Bonner Mall, Walmart, and the Red Barn make a ride up the mountain a reasonable and prudent goal. (Pro tip: Get off the Green Line at Sixth and Oak at 7:03, grab a cuppa at Evans Brothers, say “Hi,” to friends, meander over to the Blue Line stop at Pine and Boyer and catch a northbound at 7:28 and still be on the mountain by 8:30.)
A complete round trip on either line is one hour, with 19 Blue Line stops and 21 on the Green Line.
Seven days a week, 12 hours a day
This is the winter issue of Sandpoint Magazine, but SPOT is on the job year-round. SPOT also operates a door-to-door van service from Bonners Ferry to Sandpoint twice a week and a similar “demand” system in the Sandpoint area for folks unable to get to a bus stop without assistance. The buses are also equipped with wheelchair lifts and bike racks.
SPOT began service in Sandpoint, Kootenai, and Ponderay in 2011, which has essentially stayed the same since. But, in 2018, Schweitzer and SPOT collaborated on a big grant, allowing SPOT to purchase buses and hire drivers to establish a mountain route. This provides free rides to the resort for all comers every half hour on winter weekends, on a slightly lighter schedule during the week, and during Schweitzer special events like Fall Fest.
Riding the bus is fun—and entertaining. The buses are clean, comfy, and in good repair. The drivers are helpful and friendly. Driver Karen Bishop even has fans. She has worked for SPOT three times, and is now a trainer for new drivers on both routes. At the end of August, she had 5,369 hours driving SPOT buses.
“I could make better money driving truck,” she confessed, “but my riders want me to keep driving.” Bishop pointed out a woman on a bike. “There’s one of my winter riders. She rides her bike in the summer.”
SPOT passengers give it two thumbs up
Passenger Karen Vassalo says at one time, Bishop painted her nails green or blue to keep her riders informed about which route they were on. Now she wears appropriately colored shirts.
“I’m not really sure what route I’m on,” Vasallo said, “but I know I’m going to Walmart. I think we are really blessed to have the service we do.”
Vasallo tells stories demonstrating the casual efficiency of SPOT. “Once, a woman was all worried because she missed her stop. The driver just drove around the block. One of the drivers would sometimes stop at Joel’s for a burrito.”
High school students use SPOT to get to school and other purposes. Recently graduated Logan Knight uses the bus about once a week. “I don’t have a car, and it’s cheaper than having one. I can walk or bike to most places to town, but it’s easier to take the bus to Walmart. I have friends who ride the bus. A lot of people my age who don’t have a car do.”
Jase Cuccio moved here from “out east.” From the fairgrounds stop, he takes advantage of the bus’s bike rack several times a week. “I bring my bike so I can ride home if the bus has stopped running, but sometimes I catch the bus both ways. I’ve been all over the country, and this system is great. It’s kind of the essence of a small town.”
Panhandle Special Needs offers clients a class on riding the bus, teaching them where the stops are and what the schedule is. Bishop said that graduates are somewhat proprietary. “A young gal who recently took the class told me I was two minutes late.”
SPOT schedules are somewhat demand- and traffic-driven, but the time never varies too far. For a dependable commute or just a fun ride around town, SPOT is spot on. And, it’s free!
See schedules and rates at www.spotbus.org