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Our View: Plan to replace benches would waste money

When the Spokane Transit Authority board of directors meets in two weeks, one issue to be decided will be whether to spend a reported $87,500 on 100 steel-mesh benches for selected bus stops.

You would think that might comfort the swelling ranks of bus riders, many of whom want someplace to rest their weary feet while waiting for a ride home from work. But would they appreciate it enough to overlook the cost of the convenience at a time when STA is contemplating a fare increase?

STA is in a bench-buying mood because of a decision by the city of Spokane to get rid of benches already in place at many Spokane bus stops. Under a now-expired contract, a private vendor has been paying the city a nominal fee for use of the public right-of-way and selling advertising on the benches.

That kind of arrangement conflicts with a city ordinance that bans off-premises advertising, presumably over aesthetic concerns. So, now that the deal has ended, the benches – more than 200 of them – must go.

STA knows it can’t afford to replace them all right away, so until finances allow for more, the transit system anticipates starting with enough for 100 bus stops where the need is greatest.

Is all this really necessary? Perhaps not.

The City Council has had its hands full for the past couple of weeks dealing with proposed restrictions on the size and character of signage that’s placed on business premises – on-premise signs. Feelings are running high, and it’s uncertain whether decisions will be made next month as planned. But the council needs to move on to the off-premise section of the code, too, and revisit the ban.

Is an advertising message, painted on a bench where transit patrons sit and cover it up much of the time anyway, such an eyesore? Is it worth taking a bite out of STA’s reserves just to be sure a reasonable rider convenience is sanitized of commercial taint?

Or can the city legally make an exception to the off-premise sign ban to allow transit benches? An opinion issued earlier this year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seems to say it can.

With the STA board’s March 19 meeting coming up quickly, there isn’t much time. But it would be worth some of the City Council’s attention to hold the bus bench removal in abeyance until the issue receives adequate study.

STA can better use public funds than replicating convenience its patrons are already receiving at no cost.

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