Decline in ridership prompts revised transit schedule

A new People Mover transit schedule will be starting in Anchorage on Oct. 23. Some changes include increasing the bus frequency, expanding hours and providing direct routes to destinations. This new system is designed to open travel possibilities and make the transit system more convenient for active bus users, workers and students.

“The biggest change that is happening with this system is that we are increasing the frequency. Buses that used to come every hour or half hour are now coming every 15 minutes and what that does is allow for a lot more freedom and flexibility in travel,” Bart Rudolph, planning and communications manager for the Public Transportation Department at the Municipality of Anchorage, said.

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Photo credit: People Mover

There are four bus routes that will arrive every 15 minutes during the weekdays numbered 10, 20, 30 and 40. On weekends, buses will arrive every 30 minutes instead of the normal hour. The buses are not only more frequent, but hours of operation are expanded.

“The hours of the new system were not useful to a lot of people who work in the service industry. If you are a cook in a restaurant and you don’t get off shift until 11 p.m., you had to find a ride home. Under this new system, some of our routes will have expanded hours to try to serve some of those riders,” Jedediah Smith, chair of the Public Transit Advisory Board (PTAB), said.

The new transit system will now have expanded hours with service during the weekdays from 6 a.m. to midnight, with the exception of airport service until 2 a.m. The weekend is increased by an hour with Saturday in operation from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

There will be fewer neighborhood stops resulting in a quicker ride with more direct routes that will take riders the shortest distance.

“We did a lot of outreach before we proposed these changes and a lot of people told us they were willing to walk a little further in order to wait less,” Smith said. “One of the problems with the current system is that buses go into neighborhoods with narrow streets. Sure, it is nice if you have a bus stop in front of your house. But if you are trying to get across town and the bus has to slow down through a residential neighborhood, the ride seems like it takes forever.”

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After noticing a decline in ridership, the PTAB began looking at changes to the transit system. Their goal was to make it more efficient, reduce costs and make it more relevant to riders.

“Seeing the ridership decline year after year, the Assembly and the Mayor’s office kept proposing cuts. We kept fighting the cuts, but it was harder and harder to justify. We figured we needed to do something radical to change the system, otherwise it was going to die a slow death,” Smith said.

Smith has been on the PTAB since 2010. He became chair in 2014 and has been involved in the process of changing the transit system from the beginning. He believes the biggest problem was the lack of frequency.

“Of 13 routes, not counting the Eagle River route 102, eight of them were on one-hour headways. That means if you are one minute late to the bus, you have to wait another 59 minutes for another one,” Smith said.

UAA students, faculty and staff are able to ride the bus for free through the U-PASS Program by showing their Wolfcard. Any students taking 3 credits or more pay the $13 transportation fee, allowing them to ride the bus for free.

“UAA is almost centrally located in our transit system, so from there you can go almost anywhere in the city for free,” Rudolph said. “That is a huge benefit to UAA students to help reduce the cost of owning a car, gas money, if you don’t want to drive, study on the bus or go downtown until midnight and don’t have to worry about driving back.”

UAA Parking Services contracts with People Mover and AnchorRides to provide students, faculty and staff access to the public bus system. UAA Parking Services negotiates this contract every two years and has had a partnership with People Mover since 1998, Glenna Muncy, parking services director at UAA, said.

“I think all students, staff and faculty should try the bus system to give them options if their primary source of transportation fails. There may be a time your car is in the shop, or the weather keeps you from wanting to drive, or your financial situation changes and you want to save money on a car payment, fuel, insurance and maintenance costs,” Muncy said.

With the new change in the transit system, there are hopes that it will create a sense of community.

“What I’m looking most forward to in this new system is making transit relevant again in Anchorage and showing the people that live here what transit brings to a community by making it easier to use, allowing the flexibility that attracts the right diversity of riders of all income levels, of all walks of life, coming together and showing what a transit system how it can benefit a community,” Rudolph said.

There is a mobile app in the works for ticketing, but for a map or more information on bus schedules and routing information go to Peoplemover.org