Ridership increases tied to Capital Transit's new half-hour schedule have continued this fall, even with a departure of summer visitors, says Transit Manager John Kern.
Capital Transit doubled bus service on most routes in May, moving from a hourly to a half-hour schedule. It also runs express and commuter routes that aren't on the half-hour schedule.
In October, overall ridership was up 25 percent from October 2000. And ridership has increased late at night, when the half-hour schedule isn't in effect, Kern said.
"We see this as a big success as people who are staying in Juneau year-round are taking advantage of the service," he told Assembly members last week.
In July, overall ridership was up 24 percent from July the year before, and a record 92,374 passenger trips were counted. Ridership increased 36 percent on Mendenhall Valley and Douglas routes alone in July.
Hard data about revenue should be available in the next month or two, Kern said. Tokens and 30-day pass sales should help provide a better picture of ridership increases and whether new passengers are on board, he said.
"Anecdotally, we're hearing from people in the community who have used the bus for the first time. There also are a lot of people who used the bus occasionally and now with half-hour service use it more often," he said.
Gilbert Dick, who was waiting for a bus outside the Federal Building on Tuesday, said Capital Transit is less crowded since the half-hour schedule took effect. He rides the bus twice a week.
"It works out pretty good for everybody, actually," he said. "Everybody gets to sit. Before it was more like standing-room-only."
Cruise ship passenger fees fund half-hour bus service in the summer. When the Juneau Assembly agreed to fund half-hour service year-round, it was with the understanding that future funding would depend on a 10 percent ridership increase.
Frankie Pillifant, chairwoman of the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee, said current numbers are above the Assembly's threshold. Juneau's bus riders cover a broad section of the community and are professionals, students and senior citizens, she said.
"We've heard it for years: 'Improve the system and we'll use it,' " she said. "It's gratifying to see that they will use it and will use it consistently."
Capital Transit ran marketing and advertising campaigns this summer and in October about the half-hour service. Another campaign is planned for January to let legislative staffers and visitors know about the change, Kern said.
"They're always a big segment of our ridership," he said. "I'm very optimistic that we'll see the increase continue during that time of year."
Planning for a new downtown transit center is under way and Capital Transit is scheduled to update its transit development plan next year, Kern said. That work could provide more information about half-hour service and help guide future upgrades, he said.
Randy Smith, who catches the bus about four times a week, said half-hour service is an improvement. But sometimes the bus doesn't show up at Super Bear, he added. He suggested that Capital Transit post more schedules in the Mendenhall Valley.
"I think it's better. But if they keep it up in the Valley more often, I think that would be a lot better," he said.
Kerry Katasse, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, said she would prefer not to ride the bus home, but doesn't want to wait for a school bus because she gets out early.
"I've been buying a lot of bus passes because I want to get home and I don't want to wait for the bus at school," she said. "I really like the idea that they're doing the half-hour thing. It's really convenient. It just means I'm not going to freeze this winter."
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.