Ridership on Spokane Transit Authority buses has resumed its pattern of growth following a downturn in boardings in the wake of the economic recession.
STA last week said the final count for 2012 will show that more than 11 million rides were taken, nearly equal to the highs in 2008 and 2009. Final figures are being compiled this month.
The economic slowdown in 2010 and 2011 probably contributed to a two-year decline in ridership, officials said. There were 10.7 million bus rides taken in 2010 and 10.8 million rides in 2011.
More than 11.1 million rides were taken in 2008 and 2009.
The increases come even as STA was forced to make budget cuts of 10 percent in recent years. In September 2011, six routes were eliminated in a budget-minded reorganization of the system, which sought greater efficiency. Remaining routes were redesigned to cover gaps created by the cuts.
The changes were followed by an increase in demand on many of the system’s major routes, including buses that run to Eastern Washington University.
“I think there is just a better quality of service that people are seeing and taking advantage of,” said Molly Myers, communications manager for STA.
Myers said part of the budget-cutting created better bus-to-bus connections so that commuters can make faster and easier trips from one side of the system to the other.
“The community has responded to all the things we’ve done to improve service,” said Susan Meyer, chief executive officer of STA, in a news release last week.
The high cost of driving, including parking, is increasingly making bus travel a money-saving option for people.
But with fewer buses running, STA is seeing an increase in the number of full or nearly full passenger loads. Weekend buses see strong ridership on major routes such as North Division.
STA and Spokane police have worked to control crime and rule-breaking both at the STA Plaza and on individual routes. Bus video cameras have added to the security system to help riders feel safe.
Larger companies, government agencies and institutions offer subsidies on the $45 monthly adult bus passes to encourage employees to exit their cars in favor of mass transit. The subsidies are connected with the state’s commuter trip reduction program.
Growth in ridership in van pools was up by 8 percent last year for a total of about 250,000 trips in 2012, another indication that transit is finding appeal with workers.
At the same time, STA has worked to control costs in its paratransit service for people with disabilities. Mobility training is offered to help riders use regular bus routes.
The number of paratransit rides last year was about 485,000, which is the same as in 2011. Both represent decreases from the numbers in 2006 through 2010.
Railroad signal crossings
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has approved funding to upgrade two railroad signal crossings on state Highway 20 near Newport.
The crossings each carry about 2,000 vehicles a day, including 10 school buses.
The $40,000 in grants will go to install upgraded gates and signals along the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad line.
A grade crossing protective fund established in 1969 limits grants to $20,000 per crossing. Utilities and transportation staff are trying to obtain surplus equipment to help with the upgrades, according to a commission news release.
Input for Centennial Trail
Members of the public are invited to an open-house meeting on Tuesday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Stevens Elementary School, 1717 E. Sinto Ave., on options for improving the Centennial Trail crossing at Mission Avenue.
Options include a pedestrian bridge and an underpass. Public comment is being sought to help determine the best alternative.
Parade on Howard
The annual Groovy Shoes Parade at North Central High School on Tuesday will result in closure of the southbound lane of Howard Street from Maxwell to Boone avenues from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m.