Transit Throwback – Token Sense

In the late 1980’s, merchants in Downtown Spokane were trying to find a way to lure shoppers to the area. A long standing complaint back then (and even now) was that there was not enough parking in Downtown, or that the parking that was available was too expensive.

That’s where “Token Sense” came in.

Advertisement for Token Sense Photo Credit: Spokane Chronicle (12/8/1988)

Advertisement for Token Sense
Photo Credit: Spokane Chronicle (12/8/1988)

Part of an effort to help market the central business district, Token Sense was launched as a collaboration between the Spokane Central Business Association (later renamed the Downtown Spokane Association) and Spokane Transit Authority. By making a minimum purchase of $25 or more at participating retailers, shoppers would receive a gold Token Sense token, which was then redeemable for 75¢ of parking at participating lots/garages, or for a one-way trip on any Spokane Transit Authority bus.

One of the "Token Sense" tokens. Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

One of the “Token Sense” tokens.
Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

Officially started on October 31st 1988, the program was quite popular from the start. Through November 1988, more than 40,000 tokens were issued with 28,750 of them being redeemed at parking lots/garages and on STA buses. December 1988 saw continued growth, with an estimated 35,000 tokens being redeemed. In comparison, Seattle’s “Easy Streets” program, which Token Sense was largely based upon, saw token redemption peak at 21,000 in December 1987. Starting with 52,000 tokens, the program became overwhelmed with demand for more tokens early on and so 50,000 more tokens were ordered just a week after it started.

The Token Sense program continued to run for several more years, with multiple ads promoting the program seen in local papers through the early 1990’s. In 1996, the program was discontinued for good and replaced with the “Easy Pass” program, which involved more downtown retailers and parking lots/garages while still maintaining a free one-way ride on STA. (Presently it doesn’t appear that STA participates in this program anymore, though it’s still listed on the Downtown Spokane Partnership‘s website.)

Around the same time that the Token Sense program began to wind down, STA began running some trolley replica buses downtown. After years of proposals to run a trolley bus circulator system downtown, 3 trolley replica buses were purchased in 1994 and began running on the Plaza/Arena Shuttle (which ran as Route 27 back then, and now runs as Route 1). The current Plaza/Arena Shuttle service continues STA’s involvement in a collaborative parking program with the “CityTicket,” which is run with the Spokane Public Facilities District. Costing just $30 a month, it allows people to park at the Spokane Arena and catch Route 1 to and from Downtown every weekday.

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