Washington State University and the University of Idaho dropped their intercampus commuter shuttle agreement with Wheatland Express in 2011, but talks of reestablishing the service between the two largest Palouse towns have quietly emanated the past eight years.
Moscow City Councilor Art Bettge said via text message he would love to see the service return, but funding is an issue.
Latah County Commissioner Kathie LaFortune said she is also interested, but a need must be determined and ridership numbers verified before moving forward.
“It is not economically feasible to run empty or near empty buses, even if there is a fare,” LaFortune wrote.
Pullman Transit Manager Wayne Thompson said the back-and-forth route between Pullman and Moscow is brought up at times, but he does not expect the service to come to fruition in the near future.
“It’s not being expressed very loudly or very often,” Thompson said.
He said there is a need for the service but it would take two to three years for it to start if Pullman Transit, which operates within the city limits, offered buses.
“There’s obviously a need,” he said. “We need to have the right reasons to do it.”
Thompson said potential changes in Pullman Transit’s funding structure based on the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census could open the door for an expanded route to include Moscow.
Thompson said the census could form Pullman and Moscow into a Metropolitan Planning Organization, meaning the federal funding Pullman Transit and Moscow’s SMART Transit receives would be based on the Pullman-Moscow population.
He said he is unsure what kind of bus services the federal government would require, but the public might expect a route between the two cities because of the common funding source.
If Pullman Transit’s buses were sent down the Moscow-Pullman Highway, Thompson said the Pullman City Council would need to support the expansion.
“It’s kind of a wait-and-see situation,” he said.
Thompson said discussions of opening up the Pullman-Moscow corridor for bus service would raise questions.
If buses go from Pullman to Moscow, do they need to make stops at other Whitman County towns like Colfax, Palouse and Colton? Does Pullman want to promote taking riders to Moscow to conduct their shopping with a locally tax-funded service?
“I don’t think people here look too fondly on that idea,” Thompson said of the second question. “I think there’s certainly a sense of that happening and hurting Pullman and we don’t want that to happen either.”
Phil Weiler, WSU Vice President of Marketing and Communication, said university officials are extremely interested in starting conversations of a potential route.
He said there are a variety of reasons why it makes sense for UI students to commute to Pullman and for WSU students to travel to Moscow.
For example, Weiler said students in the School of Food Science, a cooperative program of WSU and UI, struggle to get to and from the program if they lack a reliable mode of transportation.
Jodi Walker, UI director of communications, said university officials are aware of the conversations but they would need to examine the situation further before deciding whether it would fill a huge need for students.
Moscow Transportation Commission Chair Michael Kyte said the commission plans to discuss the possible route.
“At this point, it’s probably fair to say it’s an idea that several people believe is important to be resurrected,” he said.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to email@example.com.