A few weeks ago I was able to take a very short trip to Spokane Washington, and ride a little bit of the system there. I uploaded many of my photos to Flickr, check them to get visuals of the equipment, and "The Plaza".
I rode the bus from the hotel is was staying at into town, the 61. Was a Gillig Low Floor. Upon arriving Downtown, you are dropped off at a massive transfer point known as "The Plaza".
The Plaza is one block, all STA. On the North and South Sides you will find all the bus zones, The West side had a few shops, and the East side had paratransit bays. Head into the Plaza, you'll find Schedule Displays, which hold TV monitors of the scheduled arrival times and what zone to find your bus at. Plus all the paper schedules of their routes. Head Upstairs, and youll find the Bus Shop, open Mon-Sat to sell you bus passes, answer questions, and buy a Smart Card. There is also a TVM in the Plaza, of which you can buy a 31-day pass or reload your SmartCard. Buses are Timed Transfers at The Plaza, at least on weekends.
I purchased a Smart Card, It was $12, $2 for the card, plus $10 of value. You can only buy the card at the bus shop, not from a TVM or any vendors. It can be reloaded a bit easier. The biggest thing that surprised me about the card, it does not hold transfers. The only thing the card is capable of, is paying your fare. If you want to transfer, you still must obtain a paper transfer, known as a 2-hour pass. Tho, the upside is, you can buy a day pass from the farebox in with this method. Also, the smart card does not have online access to load or view balances. You are able to register the card when you buy it, but you must visit the bus shop to deal with a lost card. Fares were $1.50 per 2-hr ride, $3.50 for a day pass. They also offer rolling 31 day passes on the Smart card, and in paper media format.
The equipment was newer than say TriMets. STA has purchased a handful of Gillig Hybrids. Most of STAs fleet is Gillig Low Floor, they do have a few New Flyer Artics, but they are not out to play on Saturdays (though I heard they should be out on a few routes from the riders). Personally, I do not like the low floor Gillig model, the one level windows is not optimal in the low floor section of the bus. I have heard they have issues climbing hills and running the AC at the same time. I think they look more boxy than the NF D40LFs. The neat thing I liked, was when the ramp was deployed, the floor raised up a bit to level off with the coach floor, making it easier to board, and not having a lip to deal with. I would take a Gillig over a Nova anyday tho! They also used a stepped up on seating inside the bus, and the buses didnt seem too trashed.
You think your service ends early? Bus service in Spokane is scarce after 9:30pm on a Saturday and 7pm on a Sunday (still beats Community transit Sunday service levels). The busiest routes have 20min headway service, while most other routes are 30 min, and (most) hourly. I wasn't there for a weekday, so i have no comparisons. The buses I rode were busy, the 25 was standing room only. The busiest route I understand is the 90.
So, SmartCard: Yes, Paper Transfers: Yes - Mag Stripe, DayPass Available: Yes, Hybrids in service: Yes, Frequent Weekend Service: No, Late Night Service: No. For the size of the city, the transit seemed a bit of the skeleton nature, and I read more cuts were coming. As someone who rides a lot of transit, I'd rate STA Satisfactory, it has 7 day service, but short hours of service, low fares, day pass and on board with smart card technology. The Plaza had some info on future plans, including considering Rapid Lines, Streetcar and Light rail. Will be interesting to see what STA does in the future.