Saturday, July 29, 2017

Trying To Make Transit Work In Anchorage

Anchorage's People Mover busses don't run very often (a few come by every 30 minutes, but most every hour) and we have a pretty low density.  The low density is one of the attractions of Anchorage, but it makes running a bus system hard.

So after talking to the public last year about proposed changes then (I think, but it could have been earlier this year), the People Mover has proposed a new schedule which combined a couple of their alternatives.

Here's an announcement at their website:
New Bus System
Big changes are coming! The entire People Mover bus system is being restructured to reflect the priorities we heard from you during Anchorage Talks Transit.
Beginning October 23, 2017, you can look forward to...
  • Less Waiting - Buses will arrive more frequently, some as often as every 15 minutes. Weekend bus frequencies are also increasing to every 30 minutes for most routes. 
  • More Hours - Most routes will operate from about 6am to midnight on weekdays, about 8am to 8pm on Saturdays, and about 8am to 7pm on Sundays. 
  • Better Service - More frequent buses means easier transfers to a wider range of destinations. This also means that fewer trips will require you to connect through the Downtown Transit Center, resulting in less out-of-direction travel. 
Click here to view a complete list of bus stops that will be serviced by the new system.
Click here to view individual route maps and a stops served by route.
Please click the links below for a detailed look at the new system map. Schedules listing exact departure times will be released as soon as they are finalized.

I went to the meeting held today at Spring Hill Elementary school.  I think there were four people from People mover and maybe 15 to 20 members of the public.
On the right is the table with maps proposed schedules for all the routes.  

The three benefits listed in the announcement above, apply to people who live in the more central areas.  For people who live further from downtown, the new system means busses are further away and less frequent.  
A woman from Oceanview was distraught.  She'd moved into her house many years ago because a bus went right down her street.  Now it will be gone and she'll have a mile walk to the bus stop.  She was over 50 and using crutches.  She didn't see herself walking a mile on icy or uncleared sidewalks in the winter and wasn't sure if a mile was feasible even in the summer.  
Bart Rudolph
But People Mover has to balance routes against ridership.  It might have been helpful if they had given us some data on cost per passenger for each route so people could see why they cut some routes.  

On right is Bart Rudolph, planner for the transit department.  Mostly the staff members mingled with the crowd to answer questions one-on-one or in small groups.  

I live in a bus rich area on the west side of the University and I'm losing my favorite route to downtown (Route #2), but route #3 will be replaced by route #10 and should be coming by every 20
Collin Hodges
minutes instead of every 30 minutes.  (Route 3 was one of the few routes that currently comes by more than once an hour.)
The hope is that more people will ride the bus if they come by more often.  But it's going to take a lot of persuading to get people onto the bus, even if it goes more often.  They need new riders and from what I can tell, most of the people at the meeting were current riders with concerns about losing their busses.  The lady from Oceanview said people like her have campaigned hard to fund transit over the years.  It was clear that losing her close bus stop is not going to keep her a strong supporter of the system.  
The People Mover needs to do all it can to attract new drivers to these more frequent buses.  Some thoughts I had:
  • Make the intro period for the new schedule a time that welcomes new passengers (and old)
    • Send out two week free passes with all the utility bills and make them printable on line for those who pay online
    • Sell $1 two week bus passes, so that they have more value in people's eyes than a free pass.  
  • Put up games and contests online and elsewhere that require people to look at the routes and scheduling to win prizes - like free bus passes
  • Put together a contest or scavenger hunt that requires teams to ride all the routes the fastest.  People would have to read the schedules carefully to figure out the best connections.  But they would then know how to use the people mover well.  Pitching this to middle and high school students might get lots of them onto the buses, especially if contestants get a free bus pass and winners get prizes.  
But they also have to overcome emotional barriers to people using the bus.  
  • Buses are for the poor
    • Some people equate riding the bus with being poor, with not being able to buy a car
    • Others think there are strange people on the bus and don't want to be exposed to them.  There are some strange people now and then, but they are everywhere else too.  But there are far more very normal, friendly people too.
  • Buses are inconvenient and take much more time

    • The new schedule will make the buses more convenient for people in the core area
    • Making stops and getting back on has meant long delays in the past, it should be better now, but still nothing like bigger, denser cities where buses come by every ten minutes.
    • Shopping is harder when you go by bus and need to carry things.  Maybe People Mover can sell collapsable wheeled carts that folks can use when the shop and use the bus.  
    • The bus is easiest for people who use it every day for the same route. 
    • New apps make it easier to check on routes and when the next bus is due.  Google maps* has real time bus information, and texting your bus stop apparently does too.  But the call up just tells you the next stop based on the schedule, not real time.  *It doesn't work on my old Safari browser, but it does on Firefox.  
David Levy was camera shy
I think about the woman in Oceanview.  The internet makes connections much easier. is a website that allows neighbors to talk to neighbors.  I suspect that people might be able to work out rides to bus stops that way.  Or find other people int he same predicament.  If there are enough who go at the same time, maybe a Lyft driver could pick them all up and get them to the bus, even to their destination without the bus.  Collin suggested Ride Share as an option.

A little lot of brainstorming is needed to figure out how to get people from their homes to the bus stops where the bus stops have become much farther away.  

I'd encourage people who do live near a new, more frequent route, to learn how to use the bus system, even if they only use the bus once a week to a location that's a direct shot from their house.  It's an adventure.  


  1. Less waiting, more Hours and better service. For Who?

    First, the first five years I was in Anchorage I did not have a car and relied on the bus. I know what it is like when they change the schedule or routes.

    As someone who lives in the Oceanview area I am lucky I can walk to Huffman center where the bus originates and catch if I need to. The original plan was to stop all service south of Dimond. Recently after the new schedules came out I had to take the bus sine the car was in the shop for a week. I wanted to see how many people would be losing service got on the bus in the areas the bus would not be going to. I take the 6:30am bus and 8 or nine got on every day. I would bet it was the same for the later routes also. These people will all have to find others ways to get to work or school. Really, they lose service so someone can sleep in for an extra half hour! What I dislike about this is that the city draws a line and says everyone on one side gets service and the other side none. Do you seriously think that people are going to say ‘hey the bus comes more often I am going to quit driving’. It’s like the last nutty proposal the People Mover had several years ago that would have allowed the busses to use the same technology as emergency vehicles to make the lights green and they would get through the route faster and increase ridership. That was a dud. So how much of an increase expect? Do you really think that for every one who is going to be denied service you are going to pick up a new rider? The same number of people will ride the busses as before, you are just going to turn off people who supported public transportation by ending their service. I missed the research that said X number of will now ride the bus who did not before.

    Your ideas about incentive are great, I would add employers splitting the costs of a pass with an employee. One of the best kept secrets is that if you take more than 6 credits on campus at UAA you ID is a bus pass and if you do not take the six, you can pay a $13.00 and have your card activated.

    Remember that old saying, ‘If you rob Paul to pay Peter you will always have the support of Peter’. In solidarity with the people losing service next time you take the bus Steve, walk one mile to another stop before you get on. I hope you revisit this in a year with some numbers.


    1. They're hoping that with more frequent buses in the core, more will be willing to use bus. They won't have to wait long fora bus and thus they can hop on and off to shop without having an hour wait.
      I think this basically a budget driven change. But I think your concerns are on target.
      The lack of numbers - ridership per route, cost per passenger per route - was troubling. I will check.
      I'd note that I checked their detour line this morning to see if the 3 bus detour in my area was over. The only detour was far away, so I figured my stop was ok. But the no service until further notice signs were still up.

    2. Look at the route profiles in this report for 2009. It's all I can find but it's a start:


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.