Followup from 2011: City gets funding for “City Line” bus service

The six mile route will be an electric bus that runs a fixed six mile route from west edge of downtown to Spokane Community College. Based on bus technology, this makes more sense than the far more expensive and inflexible light rail that was sought a decade ago (even two decades ago!)

Being Spokane, this $92 million investment is a bit of a subsidy to land owners in this corridor and especially in downtown. Spokane’s history is long associated with pouring money into downtown to benefit the central core’s landowners/businesses.

I just rode one of these fixed bus route lines in another city 2 days ago. The goal in that city was to create economic activity in the fading downtown and corridors leading into downtown. Drawbacks include that since it runs down the center of parts of the route, the city had to eliminate over 100 left turns for motorists, harming access to many small businesses. Construction of the system was plagued by failure to adhere to ADA requirements and significant quality issues with the electric battery powered buses purchased to run the system (they did not achieve the required range, and many had such serious defects they had to be sent back to the factory).

While convenient to use, it was not yet seeing a lot of passengers but we did enjoy using it ourselves. I can see the value of this fixed bus route concept – but with multiple goals – economic revitalization of dead zones, unproven battery powered buses, uncertain real world demand and both positive and negative impacts on local businesses – time will only tell if it is a benefit or boondoggle. We noticed that its an “honor system”. You buy your fare at a kiosk and board – no ever checks if you paid. Systems like this in some areas have become what some call “mobile homeless shelters”.

Let’s hope this works out well for Spokane. Again, this final design makes much more sense than the expensive light rail concepts of the recent past.