The next crisis came in 1981, when even that $1-a-month tax was no longer enough.
City officials met with county officials and decided it was time to revamp the system by making it regional, serving outlying areas such as Cheney, Airway Heights and the Spokane Valley, and adding paratransit, van-pooling and ride-share services.
They formed a transportation council, which floated another new proposal to taxpayers: the formation of a new government entity, which became known as the Spokane Transit Authority. It was to be financed by a three-tenths of 1percent sales tax, as well as proceeds from the state's motor vehicle excise tax.
"The voters passed it with a 72percent margin," said Jim Plaster, who joined the STA at its beginning and is now the director of finance and administration. "Taxpayers saw it as a change from going to just a city of Spokane system to a regional concept. It brought the region together."
Those tax subsidies supported the bus system comfortably. In 1995, the STA opened a $20.6million transit center in the heart of downtown. Ridership had rebounded from a low of around 4million in the 1970s into the 7million range, even if it never approached the streetcar heyday.
However, the next funding crisis came to a head in 2000.
Voters rebelled against the motor vehicle excise tax, approving a Tim Eyman anti-tax initiative by a large margin. The state Legislature saw the writing on the wall, and rescinded the motor vehicle excise tax.
"That took away 40percent of our revenue base," Plaster said.
So now the STA is once again contemplating drastic cuts in service and hours.
Among the areas that may lose service: a South Hill neighborhood served by one line or another since 1890. It was once called Cable Addition, named after those old clang-clang-clanging cable cars. •Jim Kershner can be reached at 459-5493 or by e-mail at email@example.com.