One out of every five people traveling weekdays on state Highway 904 between Four Lakes and Cheney is riding the bus.
As many as 4,500 people make the journey from Spokane to Eastern Washington University each day during the week, an increase of 30 percent since 2010.
There are so many students and staff riding the bus now that Spokane Transit Authority is adding four new departures to the morning commute as of today.
The new buses will depart from the Plaza downtown at 6:57, 7:57, 8:57 and 9:12 a.m.
“It’s good news,” and part of an overall trend across Spokane, said Karl Otterstrom, STA’s director of planning.
The additional buses are being added by tweaking the rest of the system, including eliminating one express trip between Spokane and Liberty Lake on bus route No. 174. That bus had departed from the Plaza at 6:12 a.m., but wasn’t able to serve riders transferring from other major routes.
In addition, express buses leaving from park-and-ride lots for EWU will no longer stop downtown.
STA will still be running 112 to 114 buses across the system during morning commute hours, which means the additional service to EWU will not cost extra money, Otterstrom said.
One of the reasons that buses to EWU are popular is because students and staff get “universal transit access” passes at no additional cost. The passes are financed partly through school fees.
Transit officials said the ridership to EWU is indicative of a broader trend in Spokane dating back several years. STA logged 11 million rides across its system last year, representing a 43 percent increase in boardings over the past eight years.
Budget cuts in 2011 forced a streamlining of the system, which improved service for major routes.
Six routes were eliminated in 2011, but other routes were realigned to provide service to areas that lost routes.
In changing the pattern of service to Cheney last year, STA increased the number of peak-hour buses serving EWU. That unleashed greater demand for seats, Otterstrom said.
EWU routes typically have coaches that are larger than the standard ones. Even with that extra capacity, the EWU buses are running with standing room only.
Otterstrom said riders going to and from EWU are having a bus experience more like what is seen in the Seattle area. However, the buses are never so packed that they reach what is called a “crush load,” which is about 125 passengers, he said.
Coal port duel continues
The public relations battle between supporters of coal ports in the Pacific Northwest and those who oppose them is continuing at a heated pace.
Last week, a coal port advocacy group released results of a poll that they said showed strong support for coal port shipping among Washington residents.
They said that 74 percent support additional rail and barge traffic to the coal ports because of its economic potential, according to a news release from the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, a consortium of industry and labor.
The alliance argues that coal shipping will bring thousands of jobs to the region.
At the same time, Greenpeace International this week is expected to release a report warning that Pacific Northwest coal exports would be among the top five most dangerous developments in terms of adding to global carbon dioxide and climate change.
That report is expected to be released Tuesday.
Boulevard still closed
Spokane Falls Boulevard from Division to Sherman streets remains closed to traffic after a contractor was unable to complete the job last fall. It will stay closed until final paving this spring, city officials said. In addition, part of the sidewalk on the north side of that section of street is closed during building construction at the Riverpoint campus.
STA vans available
STA is offering its surplus van pool vehicles to nonprofit agencies to provide transportation within STA’s service area.
Agencies have to agree to carry passengers who are elderly, disabled or low income and provide STA with a record of ridership for the first year. In addition, the vehicles must be insured by the agency.
For more information, go to spokanetransit.com.
Open house at Hutton
An open house is scheduled for Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Hutton Elementary School, 908 E. 24th Ave., so that members of the public can review plans for reconstructing Rockwood Boulevard this year from Cowley Street to Southeast Boulevard.
The work is being financed with money from a 2004 voter-approved street bond that has been used over the past decade to repair the worst streets in the city.