A new transit center opened on Monday at Juneau’s Mendenhall Mall. It comes with revamped bus routes that the city hopes will provide faster, more consistent service.
A few riders were at the transit center Monday morning, looking at their phones to find out where they should stand and when their buses would come. The new building still had boards covering a couple of its doors, and the shelters were still under construction.
One rider was Abbi Dixon, who was commuting to University of Alaska Southeast. She doesn’t drive, so she relies on Capital Transit to get around. After the pandemic started, route changes meant it took much longer for her to get to school.
“With the COVID change, they stopped the express totally,” she said. “I’d be on the bus for like 45 minutes to get out to UAS.”
Now she’ll have to change buses, but her commute will be far shorter. That was the city’s goal. The city surveyed bus passengers, and 76% said they cared more about consistent service than getting closer to their destinations.
The new routes have fewer stops, but the city is promising faster rides and fewer delays in return. The transit center acts as a hub, with five spaces for buses to pick up passengers. It has a park-and-ride lot, with a few EV-charging spots.
Juneau Assemblymember Michelle Hale has been working on the project for years. For her, it was personal. She and her partner lived in the Valley without a car for about a year and a half, she said.
“I like to joke about my life as a public policy experiment, except in this case, it was our lives as a public policy experiment,” Hale said. “And I learned a lot about public transit in Juneau, from that public policy experiment.”
She says the new transit center will reduce the burden on parking downtown by letting people park and ride into town on the express bus.
“There are so many commuters who could be taking the bus who don’t,” Hale said. “And if we can take this step where commuters realize, you know, you go park there, you jump on the bus, in 15 minutes you’re downtown.”
Hale has a car now, but she’s still eager to see Juneau’s transit system get more usable.
“I have lots of thoughts, because when you ride the bus for a year, you have a lot of time to think about these things,” she said.
For commuters like Dixon, that time may have gotten a bit shorter.