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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Two-cent streetcar fare hike raises concerns about rise of Spokane jitneys

The giant headline on the front page of the June 14, 1921, Spokane Daily Chronicle demonstrated just how important a hike in the streetcar fare was to the town’s transportation system.  (S-R archives)
The giant headline on the front page of the June 14, 1921, Spokane Daily Chronicle demonstrated just how important a hike in the streetcar fare was to the town’s transportation system. (S-R archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

The day’s big news affected nearly everyone in Spokane: Streetcar fares were going up from six cents to eight cents.

It doesn’t sound like much, until you realize that the nickel streetcar fare had long been considered sacred and even the six-cent fare had caused much grumbling and hardship.

The importance of this story was reflected by the double-decker front page headline in the Spokane Daily Chronicle: “EIGHT CENT CAR FARE TO SET JITNEYS RUNNING IN SPOKANE.”

By that, the Chronicle was predicting that the jitneys (private cars or vans) would now be allowed to undercut the streetcars by charging only a nickel. This would put Spokane’s financially strapped streetcar system in an even bigger bind.

“The jitneys do nothing but damage to the responsible, basic streetcar service which we are operating,” said D.L. Huntington, president of The Washington Water Power Co., which ran one of Spokane’s two streetcar systems. “… The jitney is at best an irresponsible service. It comes and goes as it pleases, pays no tolls, uses our right of way, which we maintain, and takes only the peak of the load.”

The streetcar fare increase was approved earlier in the day by a state commission. It was set to go into effect at midnight.

The commission ruled that the current six-cent fare was “unjust, unfair, unreasonable” and would not “return to the company a reasonable rate of return on its investment.”

The commission also recommended that the city forbid jitney cars and buses to compete with the streetcars, but it admitted that such a decision was entirely up to the Spokane City Council.

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