April 21, 1996 in City

Why Should The Less Affluent Catch Bus In A Drab Barn?

Bridget Dagg Contributing Write
 

Spokane Transit Authority’s Plaza opened last summer amid some fanfare and a seemingly endless barrage of criticism. Every time you opened the newspaper or turned on the radio or the television, STA was being lambasted for how much it spent on a cavernous structure accented with, among other lavish amenities, granite floors, mountain lion sculptures and waterfalls.

It wasn’t long, however, before these attacks began to ring hollow. It sounded as if the critics weren’t complaining so much about cost overruns and wasteful spending as about the fact these expenditures were for a lowly bus depot.

Long before the Plaza’s unveiling it was obvious that public transportation is not of great concern to most Spokane residents. The number of regular STA passengers pales in comparison with the ranks of those who drive their own automobiles to work, school or the mall.

Many people consider the bus too inconvenient. If the morning routine involves more than looking for the car keys, forget it.

Some believe traveling by bus is beneath them. The thought of sharing a seat with certain types of individuals is too much to bear.

The truth is that most people have not even tried bus. It is no wonder, then, that so many whined and moaned about what they perceived to be unwarranted spending on an unworthy project.

If the Plaza had been a sports and entertainment center it no doubt would have received rave reviews and engendered much enthusiasm for its potential to attract superstar athletes and performers. It is curious that the same people who condone the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars for a facility that may provide them with half a dozen afternoons or evenings of entertainment per year cannot tolerate similar spending on a facility that will serve bus riders daily for decades.

It boils down to this: The Plaza serves primarily average, low-to-middle-income citizens who just can’t compete with the Michael Jordans and Garth Brooks of the world.

Still, it is no less deserving of public funds or fancy decorating. Catching a bus may be more mundane than catching a game or a concert, but that does not require the Plaza to be a whitewashed institution devoid of aesthetic qualities.

Many European and American cities generously bestow funds on their public transportation facilities and take great pride in them. In fact, the purchase of such amenities as sculpture, art work, imported tile and potted trees create a civic spirit. Of course, these are cities where a much larger percentage of the citizens commute by bus or light-rail transit.

So it seems that all the anti-Plaza hoopla was selfish blather. Unless some citizens get direct and immediate gratification from a project, they label it wasteful and useless.

I don’t golf; therefore, golf courses should not receive public funding. My kids are grown and out of the house; therefore, public parks and swimming pools only drain our public coffers. I don’t ride the bus; therefore, expenditures on the Plaza are outrageous.

This self-centeredness is why public transportation doesn’t seem able to get a toehold in Spokane.

Commuting by means other than alone in your own automobile may require some sacrifices and minor inconveniences, but there are significant benefits. On a small scale, there will be less wear and tear on your automobile, savings on parking and gas, less stress. On a grander scale, expect reduction in air pollution, conservation of fossil fuels and fewer accidents. Unfortunately, Spokanites do not appear to comprehend or appreciate these potential benefits. At least not yet.

Spokane has relatively recently begun to experience a few growing pains. The city’s population is still small enough, though, that commuters have the luxury of driving in traffic that actually flows and of finding adequate and affordable parking. The day will come, however, when congestion, gridlock and parking-at-a-premium will prevail and alternative means of transportation will become more attractive to more people.

On some cold, gray winter morning in the not too distant future, former naysayers, having discovered out of necessity the benefits of commuting by bus, may realize STA’s money was well spent.

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The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bridget Dagg Contributing writer


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