Long-term planning includes express route into Spokane
By BECKY THOMAS
For many in Cheney, an STA bus signifies accessibility to work and necessities. For even more students and staff at Eastern Washington University, it's an easy, cheap way to get to school from Spokane, though it may take more time than driving.
The Spokane Transit Authority is working on improving its bus service to Cheney. The long-term vision shows an express route from downtown Spokane to EWU, with fewer stops than the current route.
The vision includes building new transit centers and introducing new transit vehicles to the region, and it's pretty grand for the financially ailing organization—STA has lost $23 million in sales tax revenues since 2008. It's also somewhat distant in the future—up to 20 years down the road—and currently un-funded.
In the meantime, STA continues to tweak the current routes that serve Cheney. Both the 66, which runs from downtown Spokane to EWU, and the 68, which operates within the city of Cheney, received route alterations starting Sept. 16. Changes were made to take advantage of the Simpson Parkway extension currently taking place, which should be finished in early October.
A 14-person corridor advisory panel, comprised of local residents, looking at the future of STA's Cheney routes has been formed and will meet on a monthly basis going into next spring. The panel will present its recommendations to the STA board of directors in May, providing input and feedback about the planning process for the corridor.
“This routing will allow for simplified routing, especially nights and weekends,” STA communications manager Molly Myers said in an email. “The 68 will have a new schedule that allows for improved connections to the 66 at the PUB.”
The percent of change in ridership from 2009 to 2012, year to date, marks a 34 percent increase, according to Myers. After ridership remained flat in 2009 and 2010, it has shown noticeable increases since the start of last year.
CEO Meyer said that while ridership remains steady, the service restructuring in 2011 saved 10 percent on its operating costs.
“This reflects a buildout of premium transit over the region that we serve,” Meyer said. “And we call it high performance transit as opposed to high capacity transit because there's more to premium transit than how many seats are in the vehicle.”
Phase three of the long-term plan for the high performance transit system will take place next summer and fall. STA is a strong supporter of four lanes on SR 904 leading into Cheney. Meyer said approximately 20 percent of people traveling on SR 904 are doing so by bus.
STA director of planning Karl Otterstrom said a transit center at exit 272 on I-90 would help connect West Plains cities when seeking transportation elsewhere in the region.
“This is a great opportunity to connect the cities of Medical Lake and Airway Heights and Cheney with existing property resources by having that one facility,” Otterstrom said.
Spokane Transit provides around 11 million rides each year, averaging 40,000 per day. With future regional growth in the company's long-term plan, public participation is a large part in the development process.
“That's why, over the past several years, we've worked together with our communities to make important decisions and envision the public transportation system and investments for the future,” Myers said. “By doing this, we'll make sure we're ready to meet the future when additional revenue is available.”
Staff reporter James Eik contributed to this report.
Becky Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.