Capital Transit buses stop at the Valley Transit Center on Thursday. Two bus routes serving areas of the Mendenhall Valley and near the airport will temporarily be discontinued starting April 22 due to lack of staff. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Capital Transit buses stop at the Valley Transit Center on Thursday. Two bus routes serving areas of the Mendenhall Valley and near the airport will temporarily be discontinued starting April 22 due to lack of staff. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Capital Transit temporarily suspending two Mendenhall Valley routes due to shortage of drivers

Officials hope to fix situation by July; extra tourist buses also scaled back due to fleet shortage.

Capital Transit is suspending two bus routes serving the Mendenhall Valley starting April 22 due to lack of staff, and is scaling back plans for extra “tripper” buses to reduce crowding by cruise ship tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier due to limited fleet availability, according to officials.

Routes 5 and 6 are being suspended, although it is possible the interruption will not be lengthy, Juneau Capital Transit Superintendent Richard Ross said Friday.

“I think it’s pretty short-term,” he said. “We expect to be down to one vacancy by July 1. We’ve been pretty successful in recruitment. But a lot of those new recruits are out of town, and they’re showing up in May and we got to get them trained.”

The two routes were chosen for suspension because they have the lowest ridership, and other routes generally access the same or nearby stops, Ross said. However, it will leave some stops without service.

Route 5, the University Connector, is the only bus that stops on the campus of the University of Alaska Southeast, so riders will need to walk from stops either on Glacier Highway or Back Loop Road. However, Ross said “the University of Alaska sees significantly reduced activity during the summer months.”

Route 6, the Riverside/Airport Connector, is the only route that stops at the airport and nearby social service agencies such as the Teal Street Center and the Glory Hall. The nearest stops to those on other routes are a few blocks away. Route 6 also provides service on Riverside Drive, but Ross said a change earlier this year that redirects Route 8 onto that street will ensure service there.

A map shows current routes for Capital Transit buses. (City and Borough of Juneau map)

A map shows current routes for Capital Transit buses. (City and Borough of Juneau map)

The reduction in service is occurring as the city prepares to increase the number of buses between downtown Juneau and the Mendenhall Valley, after large numbers of cruise ship passengers taking the stop closest to the Mendenhall Glacier last year crowded out local residents unable to get to their destinations. Ross said extra service is still planned despite the staff shortages, but not to the level hoped due to what is a lack of available buses.

“There’s a ‘tripper’ service that we would really like to do and then there’s what we can do this summer, just because of our fleet size,” he said. “Currently we have 18 buses (and) one of them has been out of operation for a long time — the Proterra electric bus.”

Capital Transit had requested $1 million in marine passenger fees for the tripper service, but Ross said “that’s more of a calendar 2025” goal at this point.

“We’re going to do as much as we can with the fleet that we’ve got this year,” he said.

The plan is to use Route 8 (Valley Express) during the middle of the day, between service intended for morning and evening commuters, “because that’s where we see over the last year when there was lots of overcrowding due to cruise tourism,” Ross said.

The city has ordered seven new electric buses — not the model that has been out of service extensively since first being used on Juneau roads in April of 2021 — expected to arrive this fall, Ross said.

An announcement at the city’s website about the temporary suspension of Routes 5 and 6 also notes people interested in applying to be drivers can do so at www.governmentjobs.com/careers/juneau. Information and updates about Capital Transit service are available at juneaucapitaltransit.org or (907) 789-6901.

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