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Bus ridership takes off

More frequent bus service boosts number of riders on Capital Transit

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

Ann Johnson, who was waiting for the city bus at Mendenhall Boulevard on Tuesday, said Capital Transit's new half-hour service made it easier to shop and pay bills.

"Before, if I missed the bus I had to wait an hour. I live (several blocks away) and it's quite a walk," she said.

Johnson is among those taking advantage of the city's switch to half-hour bus service. Capital Transit officials say the extra runs on the Mendenhall Valley and Douglas routes, added in May, have increased ridership systemwide.

Ridership on the Mendenhall Valley route is up 20 percent. Ridership in Douglas went up approximately 33 percent, from 7,000 passenger trips in the first two weeks of June last year to 10,000 trips this year. Both run routes downtown and used to operate on an hourly schedule.

Capital Transit Manager John Kern said the Douglas numbers are significant because the route doesn't pick up many tourists. Until the change, ridership had been flat in Douglas for several years.

"Half-hour service has made it that much more reasonable to consider bus transportation between Douglas and Juneau," he said.

Overall, ridership during the first two weeks of June increased 14 percent from last year. The total includes after-hour and commuter routes, Kern said. The increases are better than expected, based on ridership models elsewhere, he added.

The Juneau Assembly in June gave final approval to year-round, half-hour service with the understanding that future funding would depend on a 10 percent increase in ridership. The Assembly had earlier approved half-hour service for the first time this summer with funding from the cruise ship passenger fee and passenger fares.

Exactly how increases in ridership will affect revenues probably won't be known for a couple of months, Kern said. Increased service can make prepaid fares and monthly passes more attractive and it will take some time for people to become familiar with the changes, he said.

Passenger loads are reasonably balanced, but the new routes are growing in popularity, according to Capital Transit. Ridership on the new runs alone increased 30 percent in less than a month.

"They're filling up fast but they're not crowded yet," Kern said. "More important is how well we carry increased ridership into the fall after the busy summer season," he said.

Debbie Polanco, who was waiting for the bus at the corner of Mendenhall Loop Road and Mint Way on Tuesday, said the increased service allows her to get to work at Carrs earlier.

"I think it's good," she said. "You're not as stressed by the time you get to your job."

As for crowding, Polanco said she hasn't noticed a change in the number of people on board.

Bus advocate Joyce Levine said many people might not know about increased service because Capital Transit didn't get the word out right away. While people like half-hour service, it might be too soon to tell about the change in ridership, she said.

"There's no real way to judge a ridership increase this time of the year because it's tourist season," she said.

Because the service increases will continue year-round, Kern said it will give Capital Transit time to refine and rework schedules and routes if necessary.

May Cropley was waiting for a bus at Alaway Avenue, headed to the post office after her car broke down.

"Half-hour service is nice but it's still crowded because of all the tourists," she said, adding she had to stand up on a recent trip to the hospital.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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