An economic downturn and lower gasoline prices haven’t kept a growing number of riders from boarding Spokane Transit Authority buses in recent months.
The agency saw a 17.7 percent increase in ridership from 2007 to 2008. More than 11 million passengers boarded STA buses in 2008, including 1 million in October, the agency’s first million-passenger month.
That growth continued in January and February with increases of 6.8 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, over the same months in 2008. The February increase would have been bigger, but February had 28 days compared with 29 days in 2008.
In both months, the average daily ridership was up more than 5 percent over the same months in 2008. Daily ridership in February was 41,000, which was higher than in January at 37,700.
“The stats are saying we are doing fine,” said Molly Myers, STA communications manager. “Average daily ridership is a good barometer of comparison.”
She said transit agencies around the country have seen ridership declines as the economy has slowed and gas prices dropped from $4 a gallon last summer to around $2 now.
But in the Spokane area, it appears that riders taking STA for the first time are sticking with it, Myers said.
As a result, STA has had to supplement its fleet with additional buses during rush hours on the busiest routes, including East Sprague Avenue and North Division Street.
STA officials believe that service improvements have encouraged ridership, including expansion of employer-sponsored bus passes, rechargeable electronic fare cards, a Web-based trip planner, two-hour passes for shopping trips, day passes, wireless Web connections on buses and express bus routes from outlying locations.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. One is the fact that it’s meeting a lot of people’s needs,” Myer said.
“For whatever reason, whether it was the gas prices or the economy or the snow event, they tried us and it meets their needs.”
Stimulus money for Fish Lake Trail
Trail riders in Spokane might be happy to learn that federal stimulus money approved by Congress will go toward a second phase of construction of a trail on an old railroad line from Spokane to Fish Lake.
The work involves improvements and paving of 4.4 miles of trail from the vicinity of Sunset Boulevard southwest to an existing paved trail portion near Scribner Road.
The Spokane Regional Transportation Council last week approved adding $469,000 in stimulus funding to $300,000 approved previously.
That, combined with a $1 million state grant, would allow construction of the $2 million project.
The city will complete construction of phase two of the trail, which also includes “constructing a trail head, installing benches and safety components, and rehabilitating four existing former railroad bridges,” said Staci Lehman, of the transportation council, in a prepared statement.
Work on the Fish Lake Trail has been a goal of recreational users and Spokane officials since the city acquired former Union Pacific Railroad right of way in 1991.
A more costly segment, between Scribner Road and Fish Lake, would require new trail bridges to cross live rail lines to the east of Fish Lake.
Street projects approved
Two significant street projects were approved by the Spokane City Council last week – installation of a concrete intersection and new signal lights at Francis Avenue and Nevada Street and a new traffic light at Wellesley Avenue and Belt Street.
The signal at Wellesley and Belt will include a new left-turn phase in an area that is busy with commercial traffic and will be busier when a new city swimming pool opens in the adjacent park this summer.
Work may involve closure of Belt during the project, but access to residences and businesses will be maintained.
Wellesley would be reduced to one lane in each direction at times during the 35-day project.
Red Diamond Construction, of Spokane Valley, won the contract for $410,500.
At Francis and Nevada, work in the intersection may involve temporary closures with detours on other North Side arterials.
That project has a 35-day work period, too.
Acme Concrete Paving Inc., of Spokane, won the contract at $799,800.
Highway 26 bridge repair
Repair work on a bridge over the Palouse River at the Adams County-Whitman County line may start March 23, depending on weather, state officials said. The work involves resurfacing the bridge on state Highway 26.