"It makes me feel great"

STA Coach Operator Justin Martinez loves his job. 

He’s partial to the 60-foot buses, and the sleek design of the 2018 and 2019 models are his favorites. He looks forward to the longer routes where he can feel the power of the 2600-series buses.

But these days there’s something else that gets Martinez in the driver’s seat of STA buses. As the Spokane region continues on a state-wide shutdown due to the threat of COVID-19, he feels a renewed urgency in getting people where they need to go.

“Now more than ever, STA is essential for people that don’t have a vehicle,” Martinez said. “There are people who still have to get to work during the coronavirus emergency. People still have to get to grocery stores and pharmacies.”

In early April, STA reduced service, suspending express routes, putting some routes on non-school schedules and making minor reductions on other routes. It’s part of an effort to provide efficient transit even when ridership is down, but also keep enough buses on the road that passengers can maintain safe social distancing.

“It needed to be done,” Martinez said. “It’s a good idea to cut those routes temporarily and to put our resources elsewhere. And there’s still an option for people out there that have to get to work.”

Going into his fifth year as a coach operator, Martinez feels STA has been caught in a catch-22 during the coronavirus emergency. The agency has to balance keeping employees safe during a pandemic while still providing a service the government deems essential to the region.

“I feel that it’s a must,” Martinez said on the question of whether or not STA should keep running during the national emergency. “There has to be a way for people who don’t have their own means of transportation to go out and get food, to get to a pharmacy, to get somewhere essential to provide for themselves or others. They depend on us. We’re very important.”

For Martinez, that’s one of the best parts of his job.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “I’ve been in that situation before and I’ve had people help me. When I haven’t been able to return the favor to that person, driving a bus and helping out is my way of doing something positive. It feels great to help someone get to where they need to go, especially right now.”

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