The Spokane Transit Authority will drop express bus routes as of Monday, after ridership dropped 70% in March, compared to the same month last year.
Social distancing guidelines and a stay-home order implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic have sharply reduced demand for public transportation not only in Spokane but nationwide.
In an effort to protect drivers and passengers from contracting the virus, STA has implemented a number of measures, including increasing cleaning and closing most waiting areas in the Plaza, which serves as the system’s hub.
E. Susan Meyer, the agency’s CEO, also made the controversial decision to go against the guidance of numerous health and emergency management officials and distribute its stockpile of 2,380 N95 masks to bus and paratransit drivers on a voluntary basis last month.
Last week, STA suspended fare collection on buses, started boarding most passengers by the rear doors of buses and began offering free van rides to people age 60 and over traveling to essential destinations.
The decision to eliminate routes 124, 144, 172 173 and 190 comes as part of the agency’s emergency response plan, which provides administrators with five levels of service that can be implemented in response to unexpected changes in circumstance.
The agency typically operates at Level 1 but has been operating at Level 2, which eliminated frequent routes to Eastern Washington University. The reduction of express routes means the agency is going to Level 3, which offers 11% less service than Level 1. Level 5 service would be the equivalent of about one-third of the Level 1 service.
“Based on recent data, we feel comfortable adjusting to Service Level 3 because lower ridership will still allow proper social distancing between those making essential trips,” Meyer said in a news release. “We will continue to monitor this service reduction and adjust as needed according to our emergency response plan.”
Paratransit ridership is down about 80%. While that service will not be cut, STA is using the unused capacity to provide the new free rides for seniors service and to offer food delivery for local organizations like Meals on Wheels.
All Service Level 3 details are available at www.spokanetransit.com/tempservice.
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