Nearly 64,000 miles have been ridden on Spokane Transit Authority buses by participants in a program that provides free bus passes to anyone who lives or works in the Kendall Yards development.
Six months into the program, both STA and Kendall Yards developer Jim Frank said the program has performed to their expectations, but see room for growth.
“We found that about 80% of the use is from employees,” said Frank, founder of Greenstone, which is behind the 78-acre development in the West Central neighborhood and is paying for the program.
“In many respects, that’s good. Employees are taking the bus to work rather than driving to work. It’s reducing vehicle demand in the community, and it’s reducing parking demand, which is a good part of what we were trying to accomplish.”
Frank said the second half of the yearlong experiment would focus on encouraging residents to use the program.
Karl Otterstrom, the transit agency’s director of planning and development, said at a recent STA committee meeting that the program was taking people beyond the borders of the development for their regional commutes. Otterstrom showed that the passes had been used every day of the week by riders going as far as Liberty Lake, Cheney, Fairchild Air Force Base and Fairwood north of Spokane.
“It is not just Kendall Yards,” he said, noting that the program highlighted “the regional nature of our system.”
In all, 18,830 trips were taken from October 2018 through March 2019. Ridership grew month to month, except for a downturn in February that Otterstrom attributed to the heavy snowfall, cold temperatures and poorly cleared sidewalks near bus stops. The number of rides equated to 63,700 miles traveled.
The program has 1,600 bus passes available, but Frank said that number was impossible to reach.
“We can’t possibly issue that many because there aren’t that many people living in Kendall Yards or working there,” he said, noting that 1,000 people work, own a home or rent in the development. “We don’t have any way of using the 1,600 bus passes.”
From the beginning, the goal was to get 250 people using bus passes, Frank said.
Only 10% of the passes have gone to homeowners and 10% to renters – proportions Frank wants to change.
About 15% of people in the program said they had never ridden the bus before.
“I feel like that’s making headway,” Frank said. “There’s been a steady increase in the usage, but I don’t think this is the kind of thing that changes over night. As long as we see growth in that number and we work to continue to grow that number, we’ll feel pretty good about it.”
The program was opened up to the West Central Community Center and Our Place Community Outreach, a collaboration that supplied Frank with what he said were the most surprising insights.
“There’s really a need for a program like this for people just trying to stay afloat. They’re not homeless, but maybe they’re on the verge,” he said, noting “how important bus transportation is to people that are impacted. People just looking for a job, going to a job interview, going to a medical appointment.”
“It’s a bigger problem than I perceived it to be,” he said. “There’s not a very good system for that. There’s a need there. I think there’s a better way of addressing it than the way it is now.”
March had the most use, with 4,215 rides given through the program, a 258% increase over October, which had 1,165 rides. The program had 200 unique users, and the most active 100 users took 91% of the trips. The passes were used on 36 of STA’s 40 bus routes, which include shuttles to the Spokane Arena and South Hill medical district. Route 21, which connects the West Central Community Center to the downtown transit plaza largely along West Broadway Avenue, saw the most rides.
According to Brandon Rapez-Betty, STA spokesman, Greenstone has a contract with STA to pay monthly for the program’s use, with a “not to exceed” amount of $29,920. Halfway through the program, Greenstone’s already paid about $22,000.
“It’s performing much better than what we thought,” Rapez-Betty said. “So Greenstone won’t pay for a few months.”
The Universal Transit Access Pass, as it’s officially called, allows large organizations to supply bus passes generally through identification cards.
This is the first time the transit agency collaborated with a development, not an organization, and done such a thorough analysis of its use. Locally, the program began with Eastern Washington University, but has spread to include the city of Spokane, Community Colleges of Spokane, Gonzaga University, Spokane County, Washington State University-Spokane and Whitworth University.
The transit agency said organizations must have at least 500 people that could use the passes. It is working with Engie Insight, Providence Health & Systems, MultiCare Health System, CHAS Health and Travelers Insurance to establish their own bus pass programs.
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