History of Transit in Spokane
Transit service in the Spokane area began in 1883, as a series of independent transit companies with horse-drawn vehicles. In 1922, the Washington Water Power Company, together with other operators of transit facilities in Spokane, established the Spokane United Railway Company and provided a unified transit network throughout the area. The electric trolley and streetcar system was maintained through the early 1930’s when a gradual conversion to motor coaches extended to all routes within the metropolitan area. In 1946, transit ridership in Spokane had reached a peak of 26 million passengers per year, due in a large part to the effects of World War II and gasoline rationing.
In 1945, Washington Water Power sold its interests in the transit system to Spokane City Lines Company, a private entity, and a part of National City Lines Company. The expanded usage of the private automobile following World War II contributed to a gradual decline in transit ridership. Due to this and pressures of declining revenues, control of the publicly operated transit system was transferred to the City of Spokane in 1968, in order to obtain public funding.
Initially, public funding was derived from a household tax approved by the voters. Increasing costs and a need for better funding precipitated a statewide effort to provide a more stable and responsive public funding source. Spokane voters subsequently approved a three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) retail sales tax within an expanded service area. A municipal corporation was formed in 1980, to administer mass transit services throughout a newly established Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA), with levy of the sales tax beginning in April 1981. The PTBA includes the cities of Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake, Millwood, Liberty Lake, Spokane, and Spokane Valley, as well as portions of the unincorporated county surrounding those municipalities. In May of 2004, voters approved an increase in the sales tax of an additional 0.3% for a total 0.6% levied in our PTBA. This additional sales tax replaced revenue lost when the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was repealed with the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999.
At present, Spokane Transit Authority is a regional public transportation agency, and as such provides a variety of transportation services, including fixed-route service on routes to the cities of Airway Heights, Cheney, Liberty Lake, Medical Lake, Millwood, Spokane, and Spokane Valley. These services include connections between downtown Spokane and the Spokane International Airport, major shopping malls, area colleges and universities, and Fairchild Air Force Base.
Beginning in early 1995, in a joint effort with the private sector, a shuttle service operating between The Plaza and the Arena was implemented. This special service incorporated the use of rubber tired, vintage vehicles that were complimentary to the downtown revitalization efforts.