Bus riders are used to waiting.
But even with bus-stop training, many Spokane Transit Authority customers were out of patience Wednesday during a hearing about proposed route changes.
About 250 people came to Lewis and Clark High School to criticize the proposals which would make many of them walk farther to bus stops in exchange for more frequent service.
Many were so anxious to speak they arrived more than an hour early.
But arriving first just meant waiting longer. The STA board took comments neighborhood by neighborhood, working north to south.
School officials wanted everyone out of the building by 7 p.m., three hours after the meeting had started. That meant some people left without getting a chance to speak.
“I was the second person in this hall at 2:30,” one frustrated man said when he demanded the microphone at 6:05 p.m.
He noted that others had walked in late, spoke quickly and left.
“You haven’t talked about the South Hill all afternoon and it’s not fair,” shouted an elderly woman about 10 minutes before the meeting ended.
“I’ve got plenty of time,” said another rider when it was her turn to speak. “The last bus to Peaceful Valley already left.”
STA board chairman Mike Brewer, a Spokane city councilman, appeared unprepared for the anger over the meeting format and the route changes. At one point, he waved his gavel and threatened to end the meeting early.
“It would only take a second to clear this auditorium,” he said quietly and calmly.
Only two speakers said they favored the changes, and one of them started his comments by asking half-jokingly whether security was adequate.
The opponents included officials from the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, the St. Vincent de Paul store and Spokane Falls Community College. It would be a longer walk from bus stops to any of those Spokane institutions if routes are changed.
“To our clients, that’s something that might prevent them from using our services and that … puts children in danger,” said Sue Manfred, director of the crisis nursery.
The majority of speakers said they use the bus daily, for shopping or commuting to work, to visit friends and to get medical care.
One couple said they wouldn’t have bought their house if it hadn’t been on a bus route. The proposed changes would force them to walk two miles down a dirt path, he with a white cane and she with a Seeing Eye dog named Lapis.
A man on crutches said it would be tough for him to make connections between buses. It’d be even tougher for his wife, who has cerebral palsy.
“She can’t run as fast as me,” he said.
Several riders said the proposed changes would force working women to walk long distances after dark.
“That’s a real issue,” said one young woman. “I was chased by a man and I was able to outrun him. But that was only because I had been in track.”
A 20-year STA rider said he likes to take the bus to Silver Lake for fishing. With the new schedule, he’d likely miss the bite.
“That’s really going to affect my recreation,” he said.
To save time, Brewer repeatedly asked the crowd to stop clapping after speakers’ comments. But he couldn’t stop the outburst when Ia Sergienko pranced up to STA Director Allen Schwein with a crown cut from gold paper. It was “a crown of stupidity,” she declared.
STA has received more than 3,000 written comments and met with more than 30 small groups to explain what would be the biggest route changes in 16 years. Staff are suggesting changes based on those comments.
Written comments will be accepted through Friday.
The board probably won’t decide until early next year whether to adopt the changes, modify them or scrap them altogether, Brewer said.
Three STA board members made up their minds before Wednesday’s meeting even started. Jeanne Batson, Sharie Stearns and Don Harmon, the mayors of Millwood, Medical Lake and Airway Heights, said they’ve never liked the idea of making wide-scale changes.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Batson.
“Hey,” said Stearns, nudging Batson. “That’s was supposed to be my comment.”
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