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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Public transportation: Growth versus cost

Pro: Area’s need for transit is increasing; this is an opportunity to invest in our future

The April 28 Spokane Transit Authority ballot measure, Proposition 1, is about more than just buses.

Prop 1 is about economic opportunity and quality of life. It is about investing in a transportation system that will connect current and future Spokane County residents to their jobs and schools, and get them to the store and the doctor with greater convenience and comfort.

Prop 1 gives business, labor, environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats a chance to rally around a measure that will generate a true return on investment and help grow Spokane’s economy.  A yes vote on Prop 1 will mean $120 million of new construction projects in Spokane County and create more than 1,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

Prop 1 is about financial stability and continuity of current bus and paratransit service. STA has been operating at the same equivalent tax rate since 1981, when it was formed. It is one of the most cost-efficient transit systems in Washington. The ballot measure would increase sales tax revenue to STA by up to 0.3 percent of sales tax, which is equal to three cents on a $10 purchase. To ensure accountability, the STA board placed a sunset clause on this tax increase, allowing voters the choice to renew after 10 years.

About 45 percent of the extra revenue raised over the next 10 years would sustain current service levels. Why does STA require more revenue to maintain existing service? Unlike most government agencies, STA operates with no debt. This means it must save cash to make major purchases, like replacing buses. The recession greatly reduced sales tax revenues over six years and required STA to tighten its belt, put off capital projects, and decrease service by 10 percent. The Spokane Transit Board will have to consider additional cuts in the near future without new revenue for bus replacement. Prop 1 allows STA to continue bus routes and maintain funding of critical paratransit service for our elderly and disabled neighbors.

Prop 1 is about responding to the public and ensuring accountability. Residents of Spokane County have continually called for more, not less transit service. This ballot measure is the result of three years of public input into a 10-year plan that invests in over 25 projects across the county to expand service by 25 percent.

Over 55 percent of the new revenue raised by Prop 1 would fund improvements to our transit system. Voter approval of Prop 1 will enable STA to offer later night and weekend service on all routes; better express service between downtown Spokane, Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley; higher frequency service on North Monroe Street, East Sprague Avenue, and between downtown Spokane and Cheney; new service on East Indiana Avenue in Spokane Valley; and more frequent service connecting key activity centers between Spokane Community College, downtown Spokane and Browne’s Addition.

STA will also be able to provide more shelters and lighting at bus stops, build a new park-and-ride on the Moran Prairie, and establish a West Plains Transit Center. With the revenue produced by Prop 1, STA will qualify for nearly $60 million in federal grants that will help pay for new transit options, such as the Central City Line.

Prop 1 is about more than buses. It is about supporting our community – our neighbors, our co-workers, our children, our students and our grandparents. Many people rely on our public transportation system as their only way to get around, especially the elderly, low-income residents, and people with disabilities. But even though not everybody uses transit, all of us need it. Buses take cars off the road, speeding up everyone’s trip. Buses have environmental and public health benefits that we all share. A yes vote on Prop 1 helps all of us.

Last year, STA provided a record 11.3 million rides in our community and, with our growing population, by 2025 that number is expected to be nearly 15 million rides per year.  The need for transit in Spokane is increasing, and we can either wait for the bus to pass us by, or show vision and leadership by investing in our future.

We hope the voters agree that now is the time for Spokane County to both sustain and upgrade transit to support everybody in our community and to make our region more economically competitive.

Please consider joining us in voting yes for Prop 1.

Amber Waldref is a member of the Spokane City Council. Scott Morris is the chief executive officer of Avista.
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