The Spokane Transit Authority board approved Thursday a plan to increase local bus service by about 11 percent this fall.
The plan calls for increasing frequency on some routes and providing more connections. Some less-efficient routes are being cut or adjusted.
The service boost was made possible by last spring’s voter approval of a sales tax increase that costs shoppers 3 cents for every $10 spent. The money replaces motor vehicle excise tax funding previously lost by STA.
The changes were originally planned to go into effect in September, but now will likely be put off until the Monroe Street Bridge reopens in late October.
Proposed bus route adjustments in two areas were hotly debated by board members who differed over whether they should receive bus service.
Staff provided several options to the board about both areas, but recommended that the board discontinue service to Northwest Terrace and not extend service to the low-income Riverwalk apartment complex as requested by the Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs (SNAP).
The Northwest Terrace route in the northwest corner of Spokane now generates an average of only 16 riders a day, said STA Operations Director Steve Blaska, who added that a successful route carries 20 passengers per hour.
But a majority of STA Board members, concerned about the impact shutting down the route would have on elderly and disabled riders, voted to continue more limited service to the area.
Still, offering scaled-back Northwest Terrace bus service will save STA more than $300,000 a year.
Making decisions to cut back on routes that attract relatively few riders is difficult, but an essential part of increasing STA’s efficiency, said several board members.
“We’ve heard over and over from the public, ‘Please don’t give us empty buses,’ ” said board chairman and Spokane Valley City Councilman Dick Denenny.
Board member and Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke urged staff to look at ways to capture commuters coming into Spokane from Lake Spokane and Suncrest, northeast of the city.
“I believe this is one of the prime areas where we could be looking at a park-and-ride,” Mielke said.
Spokane City Councilman Brad Stark pushed his fellow STA board members to extend a route to SNAP’s Riverwalk complex on Upriver Drive at Spokane’s eastern limits, but could get only Spokane City Councilman Joe Shogan’s vote.
Other board members agreed with STA staff that the additional $183,000 annual cost of the service would be too steep considering that there isn’t an adequate place for a bus to turn around on the route, as well as the low population density in the area.
Shiloh Hills neighborhood residents who protested last month against plans for a bus route through their neighborhood along Standard Street in northeast Spokane were vindicated Thursday. The board voted to keep the route along Nevada Street.
In other business, the board unanimously approved $6 million for cooperative street and road projects.
Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Spokane County and the Washington State Department of Transportation will use the money over the next two years for sidewalk work, road resurfacing, concrete intersections and other projects along bus routes.
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