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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

County workers could get free rides under STA deal

A whole lot more people may soon be waiting for the bus in front of the Spokane County Courthouse.

The Spokane Transit Authority Board approved a nine-month pilot program Thursday to provide all county employees with free bus service at the deeply discounted price of just $1.85 per employee per month.

County commissioners must still approve the plan, which will cost about $40,000 for the remainder of the year. Two of the three county commissioners are on the STA board, but only one was in attendance Thursday. Commissioner Todd Mielke voted for the proposal.

The county would pay for the program with revenue from employee parking fees, not taxes.

“On the county campus, we have over 2,000 employees and we have 519 spaces. There’s a waiting list to get into this parking,” said Don McDowell, the county’s employee transportation coordinator.

About 110 county employees now use the bus, down from about 200 before the Monroe Street Bridge was closed, lengthening the transit time to the courthouse from downtown.

STA normally charges $33 for a monthly pass. It’s offering the county the bargain rate because the agency is trying to respond to the public demand that it put more bodies on its buses, STA spokeswoman Susanna Weise said.

“This will help accomplish the number one goal of increasing ridership,” Weise said.

The program would be similar to STA’s successful “Eagle Pass” partnership with Eastern Washington University, which enables students, faculty and staff to ride for free.

Since that program began in fall 2003, ridership on the Spokane to Cheney route increased by about 22 percent.

Eastern pays $27.50 per student or faculty or staff member for the nine-month school year, which equates to a little over $3 a month.

The intention is to increase ridership, but not at additional cost to STA, said Wiese.

Eastern pays more per eligible person than the deal being offered to Spokane County in part because it was necessary to add buses to the main route EWU students utilize.

“There are at least three or four routes that serve the county and there are available seats,” Weise said.

STA is also pursuing a college pass program with Spokane Community College and is in discussions with administrators at Whitworth University.

Transit agencies across the state operate similar programs with the likes of Western Washington University and the University of Washington, said Peter Thein, executive director of the Washington State Transit Association.

Such programs help build ridership in the short term and the long term, he said.

“If you can get a person to realize the bus is there and where the bus goes, you have the potential later on to get them to ride the bus,” Thein said.

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