Travelers soon will have a cheaper alternative than cabs or private shuttles for getting to and from Spokane International Airport.
The Spokane Transit Authority plans to provide airport bus service beginning Aug. 13. Riders will pay 75 cents to take the bus between the airport and downtown, compared to $8.75 for a private van service or about $15 for a taxi.
It will be the first time public transportation has been available to and from the airport, despite years of complaints from air travelers.
“We’re very excited about this,” said airport spokesman Todd Woodard.
It’s unclear whether STA will have to compensate a private company that provides a similar shuttle service.
Airport Shuttle Services pays the airport 8 percent of the money it makes running three shuttle vans. The company charges $8.75 for a shuttle between the airport and downtown - more, if the customer wants to be picked up or dropped off at home.
The company’s concession is “nonexclusive,” according to the contract it signed in 1987. But the service also has a state license protecting it from competition by public agencies.
The state license carries more weight than the contract, said Ric Cortez of the Utilities and Transportation Commission.
“It appears as though they (STA) have to … buy them out,” said Cortez.
STA officials familiar with the legal issues weren’t available for comment Wednesday. It’s unclear whether they agree with Cortez’s opinion.
Joseph Shields, owner of the shuttle service, said he doesn’t know how much his business will suffer when STA starts its service. Shields said he’s hired an attorney to study the contract.
“I’m more than willing to sit down with STA and talk about it,” he said.
Taxi companies don’t have similar protection that the state provides Shields. Still, Ed Jenkins, dispatcher for Spokane Cab, said his bosses aren’t concerned. The company has six taxis assigned to the airport.
“You’re going to get a lot of business people off the airplanes who aren’t going to want to wait for that bus,” said Jenkins, adding that $15 is about average for a cab ride between the airport and downtown Spokane.
About 2 million people use the airport each year.
No one knows how many of those people - or the 1,000 who work at the airport and supporting businesses - will use STA.
The buses will run at least every hour between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays, with more buses during peak riding times.
Hours will be shorter on weekends.
STA will add two standard buses to its fleet to provide the service, which will cost about $234,000 a year.
It would take 312,000 riders to break even on the route.
“My guess is the fares will not cover the cost,” said STA spokeswoman Teresa Stueckle.
The bus service means fewer air travelers and airport employees will leave their cars at the airport lots, where parking costs from $3.50 to $5.50 a day.
The money goes into the airport’s budget.
Still, Woodard said, airport officials would rather empty some of the spaces.
“We’re looking at maxing out in our parking,” Woodard said.
“It’s getting tight, extremely tight.”
The buses will stop at STA’s downtown bus station, where riders can transfer to other buses.
They will make a second stop at the Intermodal Center for riders headed out of town on Greyhound or Amtrak.