STA buses to join 21st century

“Talking bus” route and stop announcements are being added to STA buses. Many other cities have had these “smart bus” systems for some time – audible announcements are required by the Americans with Disability Act: STA Begins “Smart Bus” Initiative – Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com.

King County began experimenting with smart bus and automated stop announcements in 2001. Pierce (County) Transit added these features in 2009.  Los Angeles began adding this in 2006. Spokane is just starting to build out its Smart Bus Initiative in 2014 as part of a ten year upgrade project. The Federal government allocated taxpayer funding for the Smart Bus Technology Modernization program in 2008. Funding for Spokane was buried in a bill by Senator Patty Murray in 2007. More information about the “intelligent” transportation system for the area is in this SRTC document.

As usual, Spokane is years behind but pretends its hip and cool when its merely catching up.  Businesses looking to be on the forward edge are not going to locate in a community that is perpetually years behind. It’s nice that STA is catching up but let’s not pretend we are the “bus of the future”.

 

Spokane Medical School: UW says WSU feasibility study is badly flawed

WSU hired a national consulting firm named MGT of America to produce a feasibility study for a WSU medical school. MGT’s report says Washington needs a WSU medical school.

The University of Washington responds that the consultant’s study done for WSU “contains a number of deep flaws”.

Many of the key justifications cited for starting, funding, and accrediting a second public medical school in Washington are based upon faulty assumptions, omissions, and erroneous data that draw into question many of the report’s central conclusions. These flaws raise significant concern about the actual feasibility of a WSU medical school and are important questions that require answers.

Local Spokane promoters and politicians previously relied on a consultant’s report on the economic impacts of the Spokane Medical School. However, that report was essentially a work of fiction, as pointed out in this blog’s analysis – “Forecast Economic Impacts of the Spokane Medical School“.

This blog would like to see a med school in Spokane and is supportive of WSU running such a med school. But both parties have engaged in flaky promotional efforts.

Update: WSU’s study may have left out the fully accredited Pacific Northwest University of Health Science’s, College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Washington, with another 140 or so medical students beyond those at the UW.

Related:

“Amgen’s exit a new blow for Seattle biotech industry”

Amgen’s exit a new blow for Seattle biotech industry | Business & Technology | The Seattle Times.

Seattle’s biotech sector has been in free fall for a decade, unfortunately.

The problem, obviously, is they never built a heated pedestrian/bike bridge! The Spokesman-Review assured us the essential requirement for a local biotech sector is the heated ped/bike bridge (really): Spokane’s biomedical economy will collapse without the heated ped/bike bridge

Seriously, if Seattle cannot retain its biotech industry, the likelihood of a huge biotech sector in Spokane is low. With or without heated pedestrian/bike bridges.

Related

 

Seattle Times: State does not need a WSU Spokane med school

Now, as Washington State University tries to gain statewide support to build a new medical school in Spokane, some regional and national experts say there’s no longer a pressing national need for another one.

State might not need a WSU medical school, some experts say | Local News | The Seattle Times.

A lot of this is about market control. The UW, which has failed to provide adequate med school slots in the state, does not want WSU as a competitor in Spokane and would prefer to go down the WWAMI route of having med school students rotate through various locations. The UW argues its brand reputation is stellar and will attract top students while a first year start up med school run by WSU would start, on day one, with the lowest reputation of all med schools nationally.

WSU-Spokane argues that a med school is needed in eastern Washington to ensure doctors in rural areas even though there is no evidence this solves the root problem: pay is lower in small towns, which does not work for young doctors paying off med school debts, and the lifestyle may not be what young doctors are seeking.

Only a few years ago local Spokane promoters convinced us that a Spokane med school was essentially a done deal and would be opening shortly. Now its pushed out another decade or more.

Our past posts on the Spokane med school including the outrageous lies told about the alleged economic impact of a Spokane med school. In Spokane, people just cannot stop lying. I have never seen a community where lying is conducted so openly and passionately.

Spokane trolley cost estimates double

It was $36 million as recently as months ago: STA Votes To Approve Electric Trolley | News – KXLY.com.

Now its $72 million: STA considers $72 million trolley from Browne’s Addition to SCC

(Both KREM TV and the Spokesman-Review fail to mention the price doubling. Censoring the project history is bad journalism – or good fiction writing. )

Next year: $96 million? How about $129 million?

They are considering options that raise the price to $129 million for a system that is no better than a bus except its cooler. There is, in fact, no reason provided for this extraordinary expenditure except it has the cool factor.

As shown in many studies “there’s no clear evidence trolleys bring growth but it’s clear they’re expensive.”

What are the objective measures of success of this project?

There are none.

The only measure of success is they spend money, which is an easy target to reach! Indeed, with each passing month they keep increasing the price tag!  Spending Federal money is the only goal for this project.

Objective measures would set goals for:

  • Total passengers per day
  • Average passengers per trolley trip
  • Revenue earned per trip and per day
  • Operation costs per passenger per mile
  • Energy used per passenger per mile
  • Specific, measurable economic growth metrics

And management would be held accountable.  But lacking objective measures and that no one at STA management is ever held accountable, they’ll squander money once more. Remember their hybrid bus project that wasted money? All of the information needed to know that hybrids were a waste was available in advance. After the STA wasted the money, no one was held accountable.

The STA has not come up with a single meaningful reason for spending up to $129 million other than its “cool” and the Federal government would pay 80% of the costs. They will make absurd promises, just like the Convention Center expansion campaign lies about creating more jobs and visitors – when actual use of the PFD facilities has gone down during the past 15  years, jobs have gone down, and there is no evidence of an increase in visitors.

Meanwhile, the STA Plaza remodel is on hold after six years of planning – because the downtown business cartel did not approve. After six years of public involvement it now comes down to secret deal making between the business cartel and STA management. Update: It appears the downtown cartel will get its wish – at great taxpayer expense and rider inconvenience, the STA plaza will probably be moved out of downtown, throwing the entire STA system in to planning chaos (the STA plaza is THE central hub of the system).

The evidence that downtown trolley’s create economic growth is nil but they are the rage for mid-sized cities all over the country since the Feds offered grant money. Mostly they shift local money to those who will benefit (downtown businesses) and away from other local businesses that are not so well connected.

  • Proponents must come up with compelling, fact-based arguments for the trolley. “Cool factor” and “spending Federal money” do not cut it.
  • Proponents must develop a set of objective measures of project success.
  • Spokane’s news media must perform actual journalism in spite of their conflicts of interest (instead we are already seeing the puffy propaganda)
  • Local political leaders must ensure that the STA management is held accountable to specific, measurable objectives.

If these steps are not taken, this is just another feel good project designed to funnel other people’s tax money into the downtown business cartel, leaving most of Spokane worse off, in the long run.

Spokane Airport Passenger trend update

There has been a nice increase in passengers year-over-year during the first part of 2014.  Alaska and Delta have announced additional flights starting next year.

2014 is currently running +1.55% over 2013. This change is too small to see in the chart, however but it is a real change. It is good to see these positive developments.

June2014AirportHere is the trend in month over month changes. As you can see, the year started out with strong year over year growth, but the month-over-month increases declined as the year went on. June is up by +1.55% but not shown in the table below.

Current passenger usage is about -9% below 1996 and -14% below 2007 – it will take many years of continuous passenger growth to return to those levels.
GEGPassengers

Alaska and Delta have announced more flights starting in 2015 which means they expect to see growth in passengers through SIA. If that new growth continues, this could eventually reverse the long term slightly downward trend in place since 1996.

Spokane County Employment and Unemployment for June

 

The Washington Employment Security Department has released their employment and unemployment estimates for June 2014. The estimate of non-farm employed has risen to 217,900. This is generally in line with the expected progression for Spokane County.

(See correction, below – there is no problem here –>) Oddly, the chart curve at left is different than what is shown in the data table. In June of 2013 there were 216,200 people, and this rose to 217,900 on June 2014.  Look at the horizontal red line added to the chart at left – the 2014 peak is shown as less than a year ago. The chart does not agree with the data table. Something is wrong here and the State needs to fix it or explain what is happening.

JuneEmpl

 

Correction: The problem is the X-Axis does not have month tics which led to the confusion. The peak in 2013 was in November, not mid-year. Spokane has an employment pattern that peaks twice then collapses on January 1st. The chart is correct but confusing when paired with the table. The table will likely show employment at about 220,00o in November of this year and 220,000+ at November of 2015.

The unemployment rate is the percent of those “in the labor force” age 16-64, that are looking for work but are not yet employed.

JuneUnempl

 

The unemployment rate has gone down for two reasons: (1) more people are estimated to be employed, and (2) the size of the labor force is smaller.

Each of those values is an estimate and the short term (monthly) estimates can vary due to the confidence of the estimate.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says the 90% confidence interval for the national employment estimates is + or – 0.2%. That means there is a 9 in 10 chance the actual employment number lies within + or – 0.2% of what they publish as the official estimate. The estimate is not exact because they survey only a sample of the population – consequently, the estimate will be off by a bit from the actual number (which we would only know if we could survey every single person in the country).

The State of Washington uses a subset of their national survey but does not appear to provide a confidence interval (they might but it was not immediately located).

Washington’s web site for the American Community Survey (derived from US Census, not BLS), for Spokane County in 2012, has an estimate of about 210,130 employed with a confidence interval of + or – 1.1%. That is a different survey and cannot be directly compared with the ESD numbers from the US BLS. But … it helps us understand that the unemployment estimate is just an estimate with an associated but not disclosed confidence interval.

We would be better served with numbers such as May 2014: 6.6% + or – 0.2% (we don’t know that 0.2% if the right value – this is for an example only) and June is 5.6% + or – 0.2%. That means for May, hypothetically, the actual unemployment percentile could be anywhere in the range 6.4 to 6.8% and for June 5.4 to 5.8%. If the confidence interval is larger, then the range is going to be larger too.

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