Bus route changes put on hold

Concerns raised about the needs of the elderly

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Juneau Assembly stopped plans to change the downtown bus routes after the public raised concerns Monday night.

Capital Transit had plans this week to pick up passengers on the outbound run only at Main and Front streets. Passengers could still get off at downtown stops.

The problem, residents say, is it requires elderly passengers to walk to that stop when leaving downtown. Further, some also said the possible closure of the Pocket Park bus stop on South Franklin Street is an inconvenience.

Bessie Weokoluk, 83, lives at Gastineau Apartments and said she likes to sit at the Pocket Park stop to people-watch. She also uses the bus to collect her mail at the downtown post office and shop at Alaskan & Proud market.

"There are a lot of elderly people where she lives who use canes," said Weokoluk's daughter, Patty Tackett. "They will need to walk a long ways if they move it."

Buses would park at the Main and Front stop while drivers take a break at a temporary location on Front Street, according to the plan. The city moved the bus waiting area from the downtown cruise ship dock to reduce congestion during tourism season. Bus service would no longer be offered at the cruise ship dock, under the plan. Next year a permanent bus facility will be built at the Main and Front intersection for drivers to take breaks.

City Manager Rod Swope said no decisions have been made about closing the Pocket Park bus stop and it will remain open for now.

Pam Finley and her son, Josh, don't normally ride the bus but defended the right of others to do so.

"I think the last thing that should be cut are things for people who are elderly, poor or vulnerable," Pam Finley said. "Always ask - is this going to hurt someone who is already kind of hurt."

The city is giving locals short shrift in favor of cruise ship passengers and other tourists, Josh Finley said.

"It seems like it's kind of yielding to the tourists over the locals," he said. "Put your people first."

Changes to the bus route encourage residents to drive downtown and add to the current congestion, said Doris Robbins, who catches a bus on Fourth Street.

"This is totally in the face of the elderly who can't use their vehicles," Robbins said.

Buses can only pick up at Main and Front, because if passengers were picked up earlier on the route they would have to wait while the driver took a break, transit manager John Kern said. Further, unattended passengers are a liability to the city, Swope said.

Transit could make a second run around downtown to pick up passengers after the driver has had a break, but that would cost an additional $80,000 to $100,000 per year, Swope said. Making a second run would also take more time, Kern said.

"It's not a difficult issue; it's a financial issue," Swope said.

Nevertheless, the Assembly is concerned about the proposed plan and called a special meeting for 1 p.m. today in Room 224 of City Hall.

"If you're going to make it hard for your customers, it's just not good customer service," Assembly member Marc Wheeler said.

The bus route changes will drive away transit business and create more parking congestion downtown, Assembly member Jim Powell said.

"We need to keep the bus stops going and see that people are being transported downtown," he said.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.

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