The bus has been Spokane resident Maggie Dunne's sole source of transportation for more than 10 years. During that period, she's seen too many routes disappear.
"For me, it was [a choice between] a car or a retirement fund. I parked my car for six months to try out the bus, and it was great. But now it's getting harder; if I were just starting [to commute by bus] it wouldn't be possible. One of the interesting things [I've seen] is less and less service on the South Hill."
Since 1999, the Spokane Transit Authority has gone through phases of adjustments and slashes to their service routes due to financial problems. People who depend on the STA to get to work, school and appointments, have had to make additional transfers -- or find other ways to get around. So last November, when local voters passed a sales tax initiative that gives the STA three-tenths of 1 percent of local sales tax revenues until 2009, Dunne was thrilled. She thought that meant better bus service for her and every other rider. But Dunne was surprised to learn that while the STA is increasing its service in some areas, it's reducing or eliminating service in others -- namely, hers. Dunne discovered that the STA is considering cutting all weekend service south of 29th Avenue, the exact route she takes to get to work.
"It's quite interesting," Dunne says, "because if you go back to before they got the [sales tax] vote, several of those [service cuts] that were on the chopping block, such as the Altamont loop, are still getting cut."
Dunne says she feels betrayed. "When voting is held [to give STA money] and six months later they're going public with route cuts, it's awfully close."
Can't Please Everyone
Molly Myers, communications director for STA, says she empathizes with Dunne. She adds, however, that it's important to look at the big picture. "You're looking at it from two options: cutting, where you're minimizing damage, and then enhancing options, where you're capitalizing on options and looking at what the community wants. This isn't going to make everyone happy."
Myers says the changes being considered by the STA are part of a draft of a revision to proposed service, which will be voted on by the STA Board of Directors on March 17. Right now, the STA is holding public meetings with community members to get feedback on the proposed route changes.
"We were down at the STA plaza every Thursday for two months getting comments from riders, and we're working very closely with the drivers because they know who rides and when," Myers says, adding that she's met with neighborhood councils and other organized groups who invite her to come explain the changes.
The STA's goal is to get its service back to pre-1999 levels and then increase that by 10 percent.
"What the public told us is very clear: Increase ridership, bottom line," says Myers. "And they said, 'Be as cost-effective as possible.' Well, sometimes those things don't match up." In fact, Myers says, no matter what the STA does, it's going to inconvenience some riders.
Dunne thinks the changes are focused on making the routes more commuter-friendly, which has a downside. "There are a lot of people during the week who work [early or late shifts]. They are not 9-to-5, Monday though Friday people. The working poor ride the bus," she says. "Having bus service can make the difference between getting to work and not -- and if you don't, you don't have a job."
Though the voter-approved sales tax initiative is a boon for the STA and the community as a whole, it also means that because the general public's money is behind the STA, non-bus riders now have a stronger voice regarding what the STA needs to do with bus service.
"The Altamont route is not one of our more successful routes," Myers admits. "It doesn't have high ridership. One segment of the community says that from a cost perspective, that route should be gone. And then you have people who live in that neighborhood and who depend on that bus service."
As it is now, the changes in bus routes will become effective next fall, depending on the completion date for the Monroe Street Bridge, which Myers says looks to be running behind its August deadline.
Myers says she hopes to continue gathering community input over the next couple of weeks. "If people can't come to the [STA Board] meetings, then visit the Web site, call in, write," she says. "We've had hundreds of conversations and some of these changes are the first-blush attempt for how we may achieve our goals."
To view a complete map of proposed changes to STA service, visit www.spokanetransit.com, where links to send in comments are available. The monthly STA Board of Directors meeting is held the third Thursday of each month at the City of Spokane Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. You can reach Molly Myers at 325-6090.