The nation’s economic slowdown is starting to take a toll on Spokane Transit Authority.
Officials at the agency are proposing a small decrease in bus service starting in September, to be followed by potentially larger cuts of 7 percent each in 2011 and 2012.
For now, a few lesser-ridden routes are proposed for elimination, and bus service from Spokane to Eastern Washington University in Cheney would be reorganized to save money, among other changes.
The agency’s budget for 2010 calls for a 2 percent cut to start stemming the loss of $59 million in cash accumulated in reserves during better budget years.
Sales tax collections, which largely pay for bus and paratransit service, have dropped by 12 percent over the past two years. A recovery to 2007 levels isn’t foreseen until 2015.
Fare increases earlier this year are not enough to make up for the tax losses.
“The reductions we are talking about are modest,” said Susan Meyer, chief executive officer at STA. “Having said that, they will hurt.”
Two satellite routes – 35 and 47 – would be eliminated. They are designed to carry commuters in northwest Spokane and in the Glenrose area, but each route has only a few dozen riders a day, if that.
A more significant change involves service to EWU and Cheney. Currently, STA runs two routes – 65 and 66 – from downtown Spokane to the university. The No. 65 bus also serves the Cheney urban area.
STA proposes keeping No. 65 in Cheney as a circulating route and using No. 66 for the link to and from Spokane.
Both buses would serve EWU from the south and east sides of the campus. The plan calls for eliminating service to the parking area at Pence Union Building, a time-consuming destination point, STA officials said.
Elsewhere, bus frequencies would be reduced on the Maple/Ash (No. 23), City Loop, Crestline (No. 27), 29th Avenue (No. 44) and the Valley Limited route (No. 74).
Restructuring is planned for the following routes: No. 2 medical shuttle, No. 29 to Spokane Community College, No. 31 on Garland Avenue and No. 91 on Mission Avenue.
Public comment is being sought on a draft recommendation due in April. That will be followed by a public hearing before the board on May 19, with adoption of a reduction plan in June.
The potential for cuts isn’t preventing STA from looking ahead to building a faster and more usable transit system in the future. Meyer said the agency hopes to take advantage of an anticipated increase in federal grants for mass transit improvements.
STA is undertaking a study to develop a high-performance transit network on the most heavily used routes, including a high-speed link from Spokane to Liberty Lake that might supplant the need for a light-rail route.
Other routes that could be included in a high-speed network are along the developing north-south freeway corridor and connections to Cheney and Spokane International Airport.
Development of a high-speed network would only come after the economy improves and possibly after voters approve sales tax increases for transit in future years, Meyer said.
Until then, she said, “We are going to live within our means.”
For more information on service cuts, and to provide comment, go online to www.spokanetransit.com or visit a display on the second floor of the STA Plaza at 601 W. Riverside Ave.
Parade will bring detours
Spokane’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday will result in detours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the following STA routes: Nos. 25, 26, 27, 28 and 91.
Pavement work delayed
Pavement replacement following the installation of a new signal light at 44th Avenue and Regal Street is being held off until weather warms up and hot asphalt mix can be put down on the street.
City officials said lane closures and obstructions will remain in place until then, causing possible delays. Motorists may consider taking an alternate route.