For all the vast differences between Western and Eastern Washington, many political dynamics endure. Much like Seattle vis-à-vis suburban King County, Spokane often finds itself an island of pro-transit urbanity within a largely hostile, anti-transit county. STB (especially former writer Bruce Nourish) has fawned over Spokane Transit Authority (STA) in the past, praising the agency for cutting-edge mapping, customer information, and graphic design, as well as running very efficiently and productively for an agency of its size.
STA lost its STA Moving Forward (full plan PDF) vote in April 2015 by a heartbreaking margin, 50.3% to 49.7%, or just 572 votes. The .3% sales tax boost would have funded an ambitious and even revolutionary proposal for mobility in Spokane and the Inland Empire, including:
- Operational funding for the $70m Central City Line, a frequent electric trolleybus service between Browne’s Addition, Downtown Spokane, WSU-Spokane, Gonzaga University, and Spokane Community College
- Bringing Spokane-Cheney/EWU service up to frequent service standards
- Construction of a new West Plains Transit Center to connect Cheney, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, and Spokane Airport without the need to go to Downtown Spokane
- Boosting evening service to midnight or later on core routes
- Implementing articulated buses and Rapid Ride style treatments on the busiest routes on Division and Sprague
- Improving all-day, two-way express service between Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake
- Introducing pilot service to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (which also happens to be my hometown)
Within Spokane – 78% of STA’s ridership – the measure passed modestly but healthily, 54-46. Emboldened both by those results and by the resurgent economy, Spokane is getting ready to try again. The Spokesman-Review reports that the Spokane City Council is looking at a Spokane-only vote this year. Since last November, STA’s 10-year revenue forecast has improved by $26m, giving the agency the ability to ask more transit-friendly voters for less authority than before (from .3% to .2%).
Much like Seattle’s Prop 1, cities and their distinct mobility needs should not be held back by rural voters within a transit district who are neither likely to be persuaded nor well-served with transit. A city-only measure would hurt some pro-transit voters, too, especially those in Cheney who voted for the previous measure even more strongly than central Spokane. But Spokane is nonetheless right to go it alone, and perhaps interlocal agreements can be forged to boost service to Cheney/EWU. In the meantime, Cheney could direct their ire toward the likes of Spokane Valley, whose anti-transit and generally backwards politics are only getting worse.