When was the last time you caught a bus in Anchorage? If it has been within the last year, then you are probably aware that many of the buses are full – of people going to work or to doctor appointments. Passengers are carrying bags of groceries or backpacks with books for school, or loading bicycles to expedite their commutes.
Last week, the price of gasoline climbed seven cents overnight, and more and more people are getting on the bus and seeing the benefits of Anchorage’s public transportation system, one that we all support in some way or another, but rarely take advantage of. This Tuesday, we have one more opportunity to tell the Anchorage Assembly how critical it is to upgrade our transit system.
The Assembly began deliberations on the 2013 budget earlier this month,looking at a host of city services, including fire and police protection, libraries and parks, and public transportation. Virtually every city department sees cuts under Budget Plan A, which could make bus transportation more difficult than it already is. Among the many cuts across services, Plan A proposes to eliminate all Sunday buses and many early morning and late evening routes for People Mover. This is a bad idea, because it will most likely impact the people who need it the most, those who ride the bus to work.
But Plan A has been deemed a “straw man” proposal, one essentially dismissed by the Mayor Sullivan himself, who proposed it. He is subsequently recommending Plan B, which retains all People Mover service from 2012.
The Public Transit Advisory Board, a municipally chartered board charged with advising the Mayor and the Assembly on transit issues, will recommend the funding provided under the Budget Plan B. Additionally the Board is supporting a modest fare increase, as well. Fuel costs are rising for everyone, including the public transportation department.
In 2005, People Mover crossed a threshold when it provided over three million rides per year. The system has consistently averaged more than 14,000 rides per day since 2008. So it stands to reason, that the status quo is unacceptable.In spite of cuts in service from Eagle River in 2010, ridership and demand remain strong.
Currently, only five of the city’s 14 buses travel every 30 minutes. The rest arrive every hour, rendering bus service an inconvenient alternative for most drivers. The Public Transit Advisory Board, citing a long-term transit planning document, considered recommending 30 minute head ways on all routes. But this would cost upwards of $4 million, a hefty ask of the Assembly this year. The board settled on recommending increasing the frequency of the #75 route, which serves the new Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center in midtown and the Veterans Administration health clinic in Muldoon—an overall net increase in service.
But Anchorage can and must do more. People Mover has an on time performance of 70 percent due to passenger pickups and road construction projects. Would you take the bus if you knew there was a 30 percent chance you might be late for an exam or a job interview?
Buses that serve downtown, South Anchorage, the University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University campuses and midtown could all stand to benefit from more frequent service. Buses to Mountain View and along Spenard Road and Arctic could be on 15-minute head ways and still keep pace with demand.
Every Anchorage property tax payer is supporting public transportation and deserves to get the most for their money. We deserve a system that is convenient and accessible. The Assembly needs to recognize the value of transit in Anchorage as an investment. Perhaps the entire burden should not fall on property tax payers. But if you think this city can’t afford a strong public transportation system, guess again. We can’t afford not to have one.