A plea for extended bus service

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2000

Public bus service in Juneau is inadequate to meet the transportation needs of many residents. The Capital Transit schedule works well for the stereotypical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. government employee, but it falls short for the many people who work a bit outside of the normal work day or work week.

I want my children to become socially responsible, and I have tried to extol the virtues of ridesharing and mass transportation. But the reality for my teenage sons is that they cannot compete in school or obtain many entry-level jobs without an automobile.

For my son attending Juneau-Douglas High School, the school bus is not an option because he is one of many students who take a ``zero-period'' course that starts at 7 a.m. The earliest city bus leaves our valley neighborhood at 7:02 a.m., way too late to get him to school on time. He shares a ride when he can, but Mom or Dad often need to make the 20-mile round trip between the valley and downtown to get him to class.

On a dark winter morning with icy roads, how many parents really feel comfortable letting their teenager hitch a ride with a newly licensed driver in a well-used ``starter'' car of questionable mechanical condition? He is also involved in extra-curricular activities that cause him to miss the return bus departing at the end of the ``normal'' school day, forcing him to bum a ride or pay for a Capitol Transit bus. Many valley teens are forced into this predicament because of limited school bus service and Capitol Transit service.

Another son just had to turn down a promising job because, without a car, couldn't be at work at 6:45 a.m. or get home if he worked on Sunday or late on a weeknight. He is in that Catch-22 where he needs a job to get a car, but can't get a car without a job.

I have lived in other communities where school and city bus service was much more user-friendly and provided a workable alternative for the majority of residents. Here are some suggestions based on successful examples:

For the school bus problem, I recommend that the school board look into an ``activities bus'' to make an early and late daily run. This would provide a safer and environmentally friendly transportation for ``zero period'' students, as well as those who stay late for the many after-school activities. I have seen the ``activities bus'' concept work well at other schools, with the cost partly defrayed by a nominal ``activities fee'' charged to students enrolled in extra-curricular activities. Another suggestion is a student voucher system to defray costs for students using Capital Transit buses to participate in school-sanctioned activities such as sporting events.

As for Capitol Transit, simply adding one additional morning and evening run would allow the system to serve many more citizens. I realize that increasing operating hours will require increased subsidies in these days of austere budgets, but it is not unreasonable to expect a bus service that can get you from the valley to school or work before 7 a.m. Indeed, we have a fiscal duty to provide viable bus transportation to those of limited means.

Wendall F. Bishop

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