WA: Riders can hop on a Spokane-area bus for free during weekends from May 4 to June 30

April 22, 2024
Bus fare will be free across the entire Spokane Transit Authority system during weekends from May 4 to June 30 to coincide with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Expo '74.

Apr. 19—Bus fare will be free across the entire Spokane Transit Authority system during weekends from May 4 to June 30 to coincide with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Expo '74.

During the week, fare will be discounted to 50 cents for Route 11 from the Spokane Arena to a block south of Riverfront Park between May 3 and July 7.

The changes were made by the STA board on Thursday in a compromise vote.

Route 11 is primarily used as a last-mile transportation service for commuters paying a $40 monthly fee to park near the arena and access downtown.

That 50 cent fare for Route 11 was originally all that was going to be offered by STA during Expo '74 anniversary celebrations. In mid-March, members of the Spokane City Council who also serve on the STA board called for a much more ambitious incentive, asking for free fare systemwide during the entire nearly nine week period when anniversary events will be held.

On Thursday, board members considered six different options for promotional fare, ranging from the 50 cent Route 11 fare to free fare system wide, with the costs and system impacts for each analyzed by staff and presented by Chief Planning and Development Officer Karl Otterstrom. Reducing the fare for Route 11 would have cost STA around $25,000 in revenue, compared to $1.6 million to offer free fare system wide, Otterstrom reported.

Some board members balked at the high cost of eliminating fares for nearly nine weeks, including Liberty Lake Council Member Dan Dunne. Others, such as Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns and Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley, worried that offering free fare could physically endanger drivers. Otterstrom noted that "security incidents" had more than doubled in a six month period in 2020 in the early pandemic when fares were free.

"One hundred percent of the people we talked to said no free fares, it's not safe for the drivers," Haley said. "It turned (the buses) into rolling jails, is what they called it."

Spokane Councilman Zack Zappone, who had championed system wide free fare, argued that a significant driver in the spike of security incidents could have been how few passengers were using the bus system at that time. With a surge of post-pandemic passengers, particularly during the summer celebrations, safety concerns would be mitigated, Zappone said.

Spokane City Council President Betsy Wilkerson noted that security concerns were not new for the transit system.

"We've been hearing about security on the buses all year long," she said. "We need to address that regardless of what happens here with Expo going forward."

Among the compromise options that staff considered was providing free fare system wide on Saturdays, nine days in total at an estimated cost of $175,000. Wilkerson pushed instead to expand this option to the entire weekend, which was ultimately successful with the board. Staff have not estimated the cost for expanding free fare to Sundays, but anticipate it will be less than for Saturdays.

Spokane City Councilwoman Kitty Klitzke, shortly before a final vote, included reduced fare on Route 11 into the overall promotional fare package.

Outside of fixed routes, the promotional fare will also impact paratransit riders, who schedule pickups from smaller vans. Those riders will also have free fare during this period, but the impacts may not be all positive, Otterstrom noted — if ridership for paratransit spikes by more than 5% during this period, it could strain the system, causing vans to arrive later than normal.


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