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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

STA proposes cutting eight routes, 18 drivers

Other lines would be extended to make up for lost service

Eight Spokane-area bus routes would be cut along with 18 driver positions under the latest version of a money-saving proposal by the Spokane Transit Authority.

STA officials spent the past three months working with bus riders, drivers, members of the public, businesses and agencies to refine the fixed-route cuts needed to stem an ongoing loss of cash.

The proposed cuts amount to 7 percent of the agency’s operating costs and would go into effect in September, saving the agency more than $3 million annually.

The proposal follows a smaller 3 percent cut last September. Another 7 percent cut is expected in 2012.

STA’s board of directors has given the OK to offer incentives for voluntary resignations to avoid a need for layoffs.

All of the cuts were assessed under a series of performance standards, including ridership, travel time and fuel consumption.

Among the revisions unveiled last week, STA officials said they are going to continue providing limited bus service to Medical Lake on route No. 62 rather than cut service completely.

Two Spokane Valley express routes are being combined into a single route running every 15 minutes between Liberty Lake and downtown, with a stop at the Mirabeau Park and Ride.

Routes being eliminated include the No. 30 bus on Francis Avenue; the No. 31 crosstown bus on Garland Avenue; the No. 41 Latah Valley route; the No. 42 South Maple Street route; the No. 46 Altamont Boulevard route; the No. 67 to Geiger Boulevard and Medical Lake; and the No. 95 bus to Millwood.

In many cases, the remaining 32 bus routes are being modified and extended to provide service to areas losing routes.

For example, Millwood will be served by an extension of route No. 94 that runs on East Fifth Avenue.

East Valley High School and its surrounding neighborhood will see service on an extension of the No. 96 Pines Road bus.

The No. 2 shuttle to medical facilities on the lower South Hill would be extended to provide weekend service and would be linked to the Arena shuttle.

Steve Blaska, director of operations, said the reconfigured bus routes are intended to reduce the number of people who will lose bus service.

“There is a lot of give and take,” said Karl Otterstrom, director of planning.

The modifications are also allowing STA to reduce the number of riders losing eligibility for paratransit service from 101 riders to eight.

The proposal will be open for written public comment until Feb. 17.

The STA board will convene a public hearing on the plan at its next monthly meeting on Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Council Chambers in Spokane City Hall.

Adoption is expected the following month at the March 16 meeting, also at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.

Since the nation’s economic downturn began in 2008, sales tax collections in STA’s service area have declined by more than 14 percent; those taxes provide the majority of the agency’s $58 million operating budget.

STA’s budget calls for spending down its cash reserve by $11 million this year.

Under the proposal, bus operations would be reduced by at least 30,000 hours, and at least nine coaches would be parked. Those coaches will be retained in case of a possible upswing in revenue in the future.

Despite the slower economy and loss of service, STA expects to maintain much of the growth in ridership of more than 40 percent that occurred from 2005 to 2008. In 2008, buses logged 11 million trips for the first time. Some loss of ridership is expected with the cuts.

Amtrak Cascades ridership up

Ridership on the Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service in Western Washington ended 2010 with a 16-year high of 838,251 passengers, an increase of 76,600 riders from 2009.

The trains serve Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., Portland and Eugene, Ore., with stops in between.