January 21, 2012 in City

STA cancels cut in service

Increased commuter routes, economic activity helped
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Riders board and disembark from the No. 66 bus at the Jefferson Park and Ride in downtown Spokane on Friday. The routes to and from Cheney are busier these days, boosting the bottom line of the Spokane Transit Authority and staving off service cuts on other routes.
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Spokane Transit Authority officials have abandoned plans for a 7 percent cut in service this year after sales tax collections and passenger numbers increased last year.

They had warned that the planned cuts would have been trouble for riders because it would have caused serious reductions in service.

Cuts of 3 percent in 2010 and 7 percent last year were achieved by ending routes with low ridership and consolidating other routes.

At the same time, highly traveled routes saw increases in frequency, with buses running every 15 minutes in many cases.

Because of the improved budget picture, STA officials have said they will indefinitely postpone that third round of potential cuts with the hope that an improving economy will erase any need for them.

Planners had feared that ridership would fall by 5 or 6 percent once previous years’ cuts and service changes were implemented, so the 1 percent increase in riders came as a pleasant surprise, but also a validation of a rider-oriented approach to transit planning.

In that time, riders paid nearly a quarter of the cost of their trips.

“It is a much better result than was anticipated,” said Susan Meyer, STA chief executive officer.

Last year, 10.8 million passenger trips were logged by STA compared with 10.7 million in 2010.

Those are both down from STA’s record rider count of 11.1 million trips in 2009. The economic slowdown is viewed as the likely cause of the drop in 2010.

The recession and slow economy also robbed STA of its ability to continue its level of service, so planners within the agency took a new look at routes and schedules to find savings while enhancing service on commuter routes such as the buses that run to Eastern Washington University.

EWU and Cheney routes have seen a 20 percent increase in riders. The main bus to EWU now provides service every 15 minutes. As a result, buses have been filled to capacity during peak ride times, and STA has been forced to add extra buses to handle the burgeoning loads.

The reorganized service on the South Side has also been met with rider demand, and the commuter buses from Liberty Lake remain strong performers.

The new schedule went into effect in September as part of the wider package of cuts.

Another bright spot at STA is a modest improvement in economic activity in the Spokane area.

The agency in 2011 had budgeted a decline in sales tax collections of 2 percent. At the end of the year, sales tax revenue had increased by 3 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent improvement over budget, Meyer said.

A conservative view by planners continues. The budget anticipates no increase in sales tax collections in 2012.

Sales tax is the major source of revenue for the agency.

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