Chugiak-Eagle River bus riders keep pressure on public transit

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 11:42
  • Peters Creek resident Glenn Allan speaks with Anchorage Department of Transportation Director Abul Hassan after a public meeting at the Eagle River Town Center July 26, 2017. The transportation department has announced plans to close bus stops north of the Eagle River Transit Center in October. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River residents gather for a meeting with public transportation officials at the Eagle River Town Center July 26, 2017. Most came to protest the planned closure of bus stops north of downtown Eagle River. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Route 102 bus riders aren’t ready to give up their stops.

Nearly two dozen Chugiak-Eagle River residents met with local transportation officials July 26, protesting planned changes to area bus service during a heated public forum.

Beginning in October — following more than a year of planning and preparation — the Anchorage Public Transportation Department will cut People Mover bus service to the greater Chugiak area and scale back service in Eagle River. Plans call for the new Eagle River route to use smaller buses that will travel between the Downtown Transit Center and the Eagle River Transit Center, according to public transportation officials.

Transit planners are still exploring ways to bring buses back to areas north of Eagle River, but there’s no immediate fix, said Public Transportation Director Abul Hassan.

“If there is a solution, you will see it probably June of 2018,” Hassan told attendees at the July 26 community forum, which was held at the Eagle River Town Center.

A few of the riders groaned.

For some, Route 102 is a lifeline. Chugiak-Eagle River residents currently ride the route into Anchorage for jobs at City Hall and office buildings and big box stores and construction sites. Eagle River’s Anita Jette rides it to work at Merrill Field, she said. With no currently planned stops between Eagle River and Downtown Anchorage, she said he new route will add an additional leg to her journey, forcing her to double back and walk a couple extra blocks to work. The coming route changes had caused her nothing but stress, she said.

“I might have to give up my job,” Jette told transit officials.

“And we don’t want that,” Hassan replied.

“I’ve had headaches and anxiety ever since I saw this,” Jette said.

Sitting behind Jette in the community room, Peters Creek’s Glenn Allan chimed in:

“I’ll be jobless the minute I can’t get to work,” he said.

The People Mover overhaul impacts public transit throughout Anchorage by condensing, rearranging and rescheduling bus routes in an attempt to increase ridership and make the most of limited transportation funding, according to municipal transit officials. Some of the most popular routes will see more frequent buses and expanded service hours. But less busy routes — like Route 102, which stops in Peters Creek, Chugiak, Birchwood and Eagle River before heading into Anchorage — will experience the opposite.

At the July meeting, transit administrators pitched various solutions to Chugiak-Eagle River transportation woes. Given enough customers, a third-party vendor can provide van-sharing services for approximately $125-$150 a month, Hassan said, or the State of Alaska could seek federal funding for Chugiak-Eagle River buses through a partnership with the Valley Mover. Riders can also petition Anchorage Assembly members for increased transportation funding, Hassan said.

Gretchen Wehmhoff, a Chugiak resident and former assembly candidate, urged other meeting attendees to turn to their elected representatives for help.

“We have to get the money out here and we have to hold our assembly members’ feet to the fire,” she said.

While it’s too late to restore the Chugiak area service in the most recent version of the People Mover schedule, Hassan said, other stops aren’t final. He said there’s still the potential to restore some stops between the Eagle River Transit Center and Downtown Anchorage, he said. The transit director said planners would use rider requests and feedback to make a final decision on stops between Eagle River and Downtown.

For many Chugiak-Eagle River riders, it’s too little, too late.

“So I’m going to be unemployed until you guys figure out how to get to North Peters Creek again?” Allan asked transit planners Wednesday evening. “Am I going to go on unemployment because I can’t get to a job? ‘Cause I sure won’t be able to afford to move into town.”

For nearly two hours, the assembled riders pleaded and argued, making the case for the bus service on which many had come to rely. Transit officials have heard it all before, in public meetings, private phone calls and letters. Again, they tried to explain: Changes are necessary, and planners are doing the best they can with what they have, they said.

“We’re here trying to take a bad situation and make something of it,” Hassan told riders. “This isn’t personal for us.”

“It’s personal to us,” Jette said. “It’s our livelihood.”

The municipality is accepting public comments on the new People Mover routes through August 4. To learn more, riders can visit www.peoplemover.org/transittalks.

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