Aug. 02--Who rides the bus?
A lot of people who earn less than $20,000 a year. A lot of young people and students. A higher proportion of minorities than the general population. And a whole lot -- 77 percent, according to a recent survey -- who "completely or mostly" rely on the bus to get around.
As the community considers the plans for a renovated downtown plaza for Spokane Transit Authority, it's a good time to take a look at what we know about bus service in Spokane. It's important to note that many of the questions and concerns over the plaza downtown -- concerns over loitering and bad behavior -- are not directed at bus riders. Many plaza critics emphasize that the people they consider a problem are often not bus riders at all -- but groups of people who use the plaza as a hangout.
How many people ride? STA provided more than 11 million rides last year, and is on pace to reach 11.2 million this year. According to the agency's calculations, it operates significantly more efficiently than most other transit systems in the state. At a cost of $116 per hour of service, STA runs at 78 percent of the cost of the statewide average for urban bus service.
For the fixed-route buses, the average fare is 81 cents. The cost per passenger is $3.71.
The agency has budgeted about $63 million for operations in 2014, and another $22 million for capital projects. Sales tax makes up 68 percent of its budget, and 16 percent comes from fares. Federal and state grants make up much of the rest.
Who uses STA services? Fifty-seven percent of bus passengers earn less than $20,000 a year, according to a written survey of 1,630 bus passengers in December 2013. Just more than a third of those riders were students. Forty-five percent were employed.
Twenty-four percent of survey participants identified as minorities. Of those, about a third were between the ages of 19 and 24. Seventy-seven percent said they completely or mostly rely on public transit. Just more than half of all riders do not have a driver's license, and 43 percent did not have a car.
How big is the system? The STA system serves portions of Spokane County accounting for 85 percent of the population. It has 38 fixed routes served by 156 buses; it also has paratransit and van pool services.
It serves 1,686 bus stops. The agency has been in the process of reducing the number of bus stops in an attempt to speed up service and reduce maintenance costs from frequent stopping and starting. STA also has 118 transit shelters and 12 park-and-ride lots.
The busiest stop -- other than the Plaza and the park-and-rides -- is in Cheney at the intersection of Betz Road and Al Ogdon Way. During 2013, an average of 211 people a day boarded the bus there. Other top stops included Sprague and Hayford -- near Northern Quest -- and several stops on North Side arterials.
How much use does the plaza get? STA built its downtown plaza in 1995, and it is the central hub of the system. Fifty-five percent of all bus rides start or end at the plaza. During 2013, more than 21,000 bus rides started or ended there each weekday.
There has long been criticism that the plaza was too expensive and extravagant. Built for $20 million in 1995, it included features that critics bring up to this day, such as the Italian tile. Some of these concerns -- over how large and expansive a facility the plaza should be -- are being raised again, as the STA looks to renovate the plaza.
What are the planned renovations at the plaza? STA proposes spending $5.8 million in two phases to renovate the facility. The changes would include moving around customer services inside the two-story plaza, creating retail spaces, adding inside services to help reduce sidewalk congestion, and other renovations.
This plan was originally devised in 2008, but was put on hold by the recession. STA began resuming the renovation planning in 2012, and was set to approve it last week before it decided to postpone the decision until November at the request of downtown business interests. Their concerns focus on loitering around the plaza, and the "illegal and offensive" activities of people who hang around there. Some have long wanted to see the plaza moved; others want to question whether an expensive renovation is the right thing to do; some believe a simpler, more utilitarian facility would help reduce loitering.
How many problems around the plaza are reported to police? Overall, crime reports have been going down in the city center. The Spokane Police Department's preliminary reports for the week ending July 26 show that violent crime calls in the downtown area -- mostly assaults and robberies -- were down 29 percent compared to this time last year. That's 74 reports so far this year, compared to 104 last year.
The department could not provide statistics more narrowly focused on the plaza, on short notice Thursday. The SPD opened a new precinct office in the block last year. A lot of people downtown credit the rise in police presence, the reopening of a smoking area for the plaza, and new enforcement efforts downtown -- including a revised sit-lie ordinance -- for an improved general atmosphere downtown. Still, clearly, there are sometimes crimes -- along with the harder-to-quantify nuisances -- on and around the block.
STA's security officials filed 1,397 incident reports in 2013, which led to 204 arrests and 609 people being kicked out. That was a slight increase in reports from 2012, but the number of arrests was down from 246.
This story was changed on August 2, 2014 to correct an error about the number of riders who used the plaza each weekday in 2013.
Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.
Copyright 2014 - The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.