It’s unclear what changes Juneau bus riders can expect when the city unrolls the new transit plan in a few months.
After the city worked with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates on the plan for a year, the Juneau assembly adopted it, but reduced Capital Transit’s budget.
This means parts of the plan are still in limbo.
It’s just before 8:30 in the morning. Greg Williams is one of about six people waiting for the Express bus at the Juneau Federal Building.
Williams uses Capital Transit every day to get to work at and says he loves it.
“I really do. I came from Homer and there’s absolutely no transit system in Homer and it’s a real pain. And it’s way better, more convenient that having a car. There’s no maintenance, there’s no insurance, there’s no gas. It really works for me,” Williams says.
He says it takes ten minutes to get to Nugget Mall and another minute to cross the street to Valley Lumber where he works. His day ends at 6 p.m. and the bus comes at 6:18.
Williams says he can afford a car, but, “I just like this. It’s really convenient for me.”
When the city starts to implement the new Transit Development Plan, Williams may have to catch the Express Bus from the Downtown Transportation Center instead of the Federal Building.
“It’s just going to take us a while to work out all the details,” says public works director Kirk Duncan. He adds it’s unclear if the Express will stop at the Federal Building once the plan is implemented.
Transit superintendent John Kern retired at the end of May. Duncan is acting superintendent.
“It’s a fluid plan. We’re still trying to make adaptions to the plan working with the consultants, working with the staff to make sure everything will come together,” Duncan says.
What Duncan does know for sure is midday service to North Douglas will end July 1. Riders also will see reductions to the express route and service to Back Loop Road. He says the reductions will make new service on Riverside Drive possible.
“Starting North Riverside going all the way down Riverside. It will provide service to the library, the swimming pool and the high school, so we’re really excited about that,” Duncan says.
The transit plan also calls for bus service to start earlier and end later. When or if this happens is still a question. Duncan says it will depend on how much it impacts the schedules of 38 drivers.
“The current system is very, very effective – drivers working four 10-hour shifts a week,” he says. “Now, adding another hour in the beginning, an hour at the end. What does that mean? Do we start paying more overtime, do we need more drivers?”
Former transit superintendent Kern says the new transit plan is meant to increase reliability by providing drivers more time to get from one stop to another. He says many riders are missing transfers.
“When traffic, construction, passenger loads get really heavy, there’s difficulty in making those connections. When the buses run late, we don’t ask drivers to wait for the other bus more than five minutes and that becomes a missed connection,” Kern says.
The plan being implemented in the fall won’t include routes to Costco or the ferry terminal, two destinations riders have prioritized for years. They’re part of the plan, but as longer-term recommendations. Kern says this in itself is an accomplishment.
“Just getting things into the plan is the first step. The Downtown Transportation Center was in the 1996 transportation plan for the first time. We opened the doors in 2011. So, sometimes good things take a long time,” he says.
It’s a big responsibility to change something many people rely on daily, Kern says:
“We are so much a part of people’s lives that’s so important to them – their ride to work, their ride home, their ride to the store, to school. There are going to some changes that people will have to adjust to.”
Kern says until the buses are actually operating under the new transit plan, it’s impossible to know how well it’ll work.
Full disclosure: Kirk Duncan is a member of the KTOO Board of Directors.