There has been no shortage of public gatherings to discuss proposed cutbacks in bus service since the Spokane Transit Authority announced its preliminary reduction plan last September.
Last week at the monthly STA board of directors meeting, the public heard the latest update on how routes might be changing this September.
Faced with a steady drop in sales tax revenue, the agency is looking at a 7-percent decrease in service in 2011 and another 7 percent the following year. The initial recommendation included a savings of between $3.4 million and $3.8 million with the annual fixed route platform hours – fancy phrasing for bus routes – being cut between 34,000 and 38,000.
On Jan. 19, STA introduced a draft recommendation based on nearly four months of public meetings and community input that ran from October through December. STA officials appeared at City Council meetings, hosted open houses and collected feedback from residents through written surveys and by phone.
“We got some great ideas,” said Molly Myers, STA spokeswoman. “Our goal is to listen to folks on a regular basis.”
Attendance at the meetings ranged from a crowd of over 100 in Medical Lake, voicing concern over plans to completely eliminate bus service in their town to a handful of citizens at a Spokane Valley open house in November where bus patron Michael Holmes offered alternatives to the idea of nixing Route 95 through Millwood.
“People are concerned,” Holmes said at the open house. “Some people are going to left out along this corridor.”
Based on the information presented last week, it turns out fewer people are going to be left out that originally thought.
The latest proposal includes a reduction of between 30,000 to 34,000 in fixed route platform hours and a total of eight routes either eliminated or consolidated. In Millwood, the loss of Route 95 is being eased by a move to have Route 94 travel east of Park on Broadway to the Argonne/Millwood corridor, then north to Liberty.
In Spokane Valley, 242 daily trips will be cut in the latest approach. Route 32 will no longer loop into the Mirabeau Parkway/Valley YMCA area while the same bus will continue its current route on Trent between Vista and Argonne rather than Buckeye.
The shift in the Valley will also mean buses traveling on the perimeter of the Spokane Industrial Park along Sullivan but bypassing stops within the actual park.
Spokane Valley City Council Member Dean Grafos, who serves on the STA board with Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, said he is encouraging residents affected by the route changes at the Industrial Park and Mirabeau Parkway to voice their concerns before the final plan is approved.
“My priority is jobs,” Grafos said. “How much more could it cost to make a little loop? I think people should be commenting on this.”
In Medical Lake, the proposal would leave weekday service intact as well as limited late night and weekend routes. Myers said STA is also in the process of developing van pools to pick up the slack left by cutbacks.
“The citizens in Medical Lake were basically saying, ‘Don’t leave us stranded as a community,’ “I think we listened and made adjustments,” Myers said.
In Liberty Lake, additional concessions could mean more comprehensive service despite the loss of Route 72. Under the draft plan, the area would have increased frequency at peak and midday times courtesy of Route 74. The addition of a new Route 98 through Greenacres would also mean seven-day-a-week service to Liberty Lake – up from five days a week.
“This is really encouraging for Liberty Lake,” said Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman who has served on the STA board for the past two years. “It’s really a credit to the expertise of the STA staff. Overall, they were able to make adjustments to minimize the initial cuts.”
On the paratransit side, the original document had 100 bus patrons losing service, including 35 in the Millwood area. The latest draft has secured routes for all but eight of those residents.
Myers said STA representatives plan to speak at the Liberty Lake City Council meeting on Feb. 1 to go over the changes. Public feedback from Spokane County residents will be received through the STA board meeting on March 16. Citizens can visit the STA Web site at www.spokanetransit.com or call the comment line at 343-1653. The board meeting on Feb. 16 will also include a public hearing.
The STA board is expected to vote on the final service reduction plan at its March meeting with bus route changes going into effect on Sept. 18.