Saturday, January 10, 2004

Spokane

Employers worry about effects of STA route cuts

Amy Cannata
Staff writer

Some of Jaak Juhkentaal's most valued employees take the bus to their jobs at Rockwood South, and he's worried he could lose them.

"I know for a fact that, especially in our housekeeping department, we have a number of employees dependent on the bus service to keep their jobs," said Juhkentaal, operations manager for Rockwood Retirement Communities.

And now that bus service is going to be cut back, hurting those employees, he said.

The Spokane Transit Authority's proposed 45
percent fixed-route reduction would eliminate bus service after 7 p.m. weekdays and on the weekends entirely. Parts of the West Plains, Spokane Valley and South Hill would no longer be served at all.

For businesses left off the new route map or with irregular hours, the cuts could strand employees.

Even if businesses are only open 8-5 on weekdays and are served by one of the proposed bus routes, they still could have problems if their employees can't catch the bus near their homes, said STA spokeswoman Molly Myers.

The Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce hasn't taken a position on the proposed cuts, but is examining the issue, said the chamber's board chairman, Scott Morris.

"We clearly understand that in order to build a thriving and dynamic economy in the area, that's linked to transportation," Morris said.

The chamber is particularly worried about Fairchild Air Force Base's service being cut, said chamber president Rich Hadley.

The federal government is studying closing some military bases, and transportation is one factor they are considering, Hadley said.

The potential impacts of STA's cuts are also sinking in for transit riders.

Amy Fodor works hard to support her two children. But come July, getting to work could be the hardest part.

Fodor works temporary jobs, and right now she's helping show furniture at the Spokane Valley Costco store.

The job includes weekend hours, and Fodor relies on the bus to get her to work each day and to the day-care center where she leaves her children.

But in six months, her job opportunities may be much more limited.

"I would probably just have to accept the ones that are regular business hours," said Fodor of her temporary job opportunities. "I have no other way to get to work except the bus."

The Spokane Business and Industrial Park is fighting to retain its service.

"It's certainly a minority that takes the bus, but it's expensive to train even one employee. You don't want to lose anybody," said industrial park spokesman Dean Stuart.

Stuart said he has written to the STA board about the issue, but is hopeful that it will be moot if the board takes a sales tax increase back to the voters. Voters turned down a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase to support transit in 2002.

Many businesses are unaware how many of their employees use public transportation and of how the proposed cuts will impact them, said STA's Myers.

The Spokane Valley Mall is open beyond STA's proposed hours, but store managers haven't been complaining about the cuts, said mall manager John Shasky.

"We've heard the news, but we don't know the specifics," Shasky said.

Other businesses are already preparing for the worst.

At Sacred Heart Medical Center, Employee Transportation Coordinator Lori Barschig has been looking at expanding the company's rideshare program to help those who may not be able to use the bus come July.

"It's going to impact us greatly," Barschig said.

Past STA service reductions caused many Sacred Heart employees to stop taking the bus. Some had to buy cars they really couldn't afford, she said.

"I would really, really like to see something better in place for STA," Barschig said.

ĽAmy Cannata can be reached at (509) 459-5497 or by e-mail at amyc@spokesman.com.


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