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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Kate Burke and Julie Honekamp: STA should expand reduced fare program

Councilwoman Kate Burke ,SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp

We stand firmly by the Spokane Transit Authority’s mission: to provide safe, accessible, convenient and efficient transportation services to the Spokane region’s neighborhoods, businesses and activity center.

It is essential to our region to have services that bring people together and gets folks where they need to go. STA’s commitment to its mission helps makes all of this possible.

Over the course of its existence, STA has recognized the barriers that many of our community members face – physical and financial barriers that make accessing bus services financially unfeasible or difficult to access. It is these realizations, coupled with a commitment to the core mission that has driven innovative solutions like free summer passes for our youth, reduced rates for seniors and paratransit options for folks with disabilities.

These strategies were common-sense steps to expanding ridership, ensuring accessibility and promoting equity. The results of these innovations have been wildly popular and provided practical solution for many working families.

Now, we as a community are beginning to wake up to the fact that these narrow carve-outs are not sufficient. With nearly 70,000 Spokane County individuals living below the Federal poverty line, many families simply cannot afford bus fare and are just one accident or emergency away from bankruptcy. Folks that get into a fender-bender shouldn’t fall into financial ruin because they can’t commute to work. It is time we help these families by expanding our reduced fare system to all those who demonstrate need.

Access to reliable transportation through a reduced fare program is not just about getting to work. It is also critical to those seeking prosperity by attending school, receiving medical care or accessing healthy food at a grocery store that is outside of walking distance. Affordable transportation through a reduced fare program can propel riders to greater financial independence.

As Spokane’s regional public transportation agency, STA says it is guided by core values that include respect (“we are open and honest in our internal and external communications”) and accountability (“we are accountable to each other, all our customers and our community to demonstrate these core values in our daily work life”). Many transit providers have adopted similar reduced fare programs.

We know that STA can live the value of innovation through creativity and make a reduced fare program happen.

Many of the city’s nonprofit partners and community leaders agree: Expanding our reduced fare pass program to all families and adults in need is the next logical step of a successful program.

Such a step would relieve working families for whom the cost of bus fare would be a burden. It would also support the organizations that serve these families – many of which already spend precious resources providing bus fare for clients. For many people it is more than a ticket to work. It is a way to increase opportunity and improve quality of life.

A prerequisite to living STA’s values of respect and accountability is a willingness to listen to their ridership and community. It is antithetical to its own values that the STA board should move to shut down conversation about expanding its reduced fare program to vulnerable families, as was proposed at the June STA board meeting.

As leaders, they should be willing to engage in a respectful, considered conversation about improving this service and ready to hear ways to improve. Our community, voters and citizenry deserve a transparent, forthright conversation about this needed program.

The benefits of this program would not be restricted to the recipients. STA also has much to gain. Transit organizations across the country have successfully implemented reduced fare programs to great success – results often include expanded ridership and stronger communities.

Even in Spokane, our free youth summer pass generated over 40,000 rides. Many of these riders will continue to incorporate STA’s services as they move into adulthood. If Spokane is to be a city of choice, people need to have options.

We call on the STA Board of Directors to engage in a conversation, research options and ensure that all people in Spokane County, especially those most in need, have equitable access to public transportation.

The community is calling on us to act. It’s time to answer.

Kate Burke is a member of the Spokane City Council. Julie Honekamp is CEO of SNAP & SNAP Financial Access.

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