Juneau residents could have better access to public transportation during the early morning and evening hours if city planners and consultants heed comments made by members of the public.
City and Borough of Juneau officials are asking the public to consider which components out of three transit plans they want most. Extending service hours and servicing the Costco area are recurring elements in the plans.
Consultants Paul Lutey and Geoff Slater of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates teamed with city staff to hold two public meetings this week to gather opinions as they develop a preferred transit plan update for the city to consider during next year’s budget talks.
“We’re not going to take one of these scenarios forward — we’re going to take pieces from it,” Lutey said.
About 50 people attended the two meetings and many agreed on what changes need to be made to the city’s public transportation system.
Most agreed service should be reduced on Back Loop Road and many favored increasing evening service to the University of Alaska Southeast. Members of the public at both the downtown and valley meetings supported service out to the ferry terminal. The resounding theme at both meetings was the need for earlier and later service for workers with non-traditional work hours.
“I don’t hire people from the valley. Not because I don’t want to, but they can’t get to work when I need them,” said Paul Thomas, the owner of Alaska Cache Liquor. “I lose a lot of possibility in hiring.”
While the need for extended service hours was echoed by most who attended the two meetings, the merits of a dedicated downtown route was a bit more divisive.
Some see little use for a downtown circulator that would save Juneauites under a mile of walking, but others contend the topography downtown — particularly when coupled with winter weather — mandates such a route.
“A quarter-of-a-mile from service in downtown for a pedestrian to travel is drastically different from a quarter-of-a-mile in a flat area out in the valley,” Thomas said.
The need is particularly strong for the elderly who live downtown and during the winter months when icy conditions and strong winds make walking downtown “unpleasant,” Thomas added.
Others asked for a mobile application that gives up-to-the-minute information on a bus’s status and location. The city said that’s already a goal.
“I certainly hope to see one (initiative) be technology, particularly one that gives real-time information on busses,” Transit Superintendant John Kern said.
Another item that will likely be included in the final batch of recommendations given to the CBJ assembly is offering holiday service.
“Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean most people don’t have to work, and currently there’s no service on holidays,” Slater said.
Examining Juneau’s public transportation has been a six-month process, but the latest round of public meetings offered a stark view to one item consultants had thought was a top priority: people at both meetings didn’t express much desire for service to Riverside Drive if it meant any number of other services would suffer.
“The doctors say it’s healthy to walk,” said Mary Gingersnap, a Juneau resident of 45 years.
“She added that many houses along the proposed route have cars, so service should be centered around the people who depend on public transportation for every part of their lives.
At a recent assembly meeting, Juneau’s leaders tabbed updating the transit plan as it’s number-six priority for the coming year.
The consultants plan to hold another public meeting in December on an updated scenario that takes into account the public opinion currently being gathered. A final scenario should be ready early next year.
“As ridership keeps growing, the system gets stretched thinner and thinner,” Slater said.