This photo shows a Capital Transit bus en route along Glacier Highway in the Mendenhall Valley. City officials are considering temporary cuts to some routes amid a shortage of drivers low ridership. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire.)

This photo shows a Capital Transit bus en route along Glacier Highway in the Mendenhall Valley. City officials are considering temporary cuts to some routes amid a shortage of drivers low ridership. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire.)

City considers cutting bus routes

Staff shortage and low ridership drive discussion.

Driver vacancies and low ridership have city officials considering cutting city bus routes.

At a Monday afternoon meeting, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee discussed the possibility of Capital Transit temporarily cutting routes at some point in July, but nothing as of yet has been officially determined.

Options include temporarily making changes to Route 12 by eliminating the commuter service to North Douglas based on low ridership, Route 6 by eliminating or reducing service on the Riverside Express, which serves the airport, social services campus, and the public facilities on Riverside Drive, and lastly, Route 1 by moving it from half hourly to hourly service to Douglas. This may increase the number of missed transfers, according to a memo included in the meeting packet.

Hal Klum, operations supervisor for Capital Transit, said it’s with a heavy heart that cuts are even having to be considered, but he wants the public to be assured that all decisions are being made with careful consideration.

“Honestly, our labor pool is getting thin and it’s getting harder to get the buses out the door on all the routes and that’s just the fact of the matter,” Klum said. “We’ve been running recruitments and we’ve been talking to people, attending job fairs when we can but we’re in the same boat that the tour operators are in, you just can’t find a commercial driver right now. I just really want everyone to know that we’re trying to make our route changes so they’re the least impactful and that’s about the best we can do and we’re putting a lot of thought process into it.”

COVID-19 has played a significant role in staffing shortages and previously led to cutting routes.

Juneau isn’t the only city to be experiencing a shortage in bus drivers, as it is a part of a larger nationwide issue, according to the Juneau Engineering and Public Works Department. As is the case for many cities, COVID-19 has played a significant role in staffing shortages.

Assembly member Wade Bryson, chair of the public works committee, said it’s not just as simple as eliminating routes due to low ridership because any closure will inevitably inconvenience someone. Bryson also said the driver shortage was exacerbated in February when federal changes went into effect making it more time-consuming and expensive to receive a commercial driver’s license.

“One of the major challenges is that the training component became way more tense, and so instead of just taking a an online class, you have to take a multi-week course and be physically present for it, so there’s a greater expense and resource requirement to get your CDL, and so it’s making that even trickier,” Bryson said. “I asked if they (Capital Transit) had reached out to the tour operators because they have CDL bus drivers and hopefully by the end of this season we’ll be able to recruit some of them.”

By the numbers

— 6: The number of bus driver positions expected to be vacant in July. That’s 20% of the 30 total positions.

— 625: The number of people in Juneau who took an online Capital Transit survey. Of those, 363 are bus riders.

— 76: The percentage of bus users who showed a preference for fewer routes and more consistent service.

$40: The cost of a monthly Capital Transit pass for people 19 and older, passes for University of Alaska Southeast students cost $20 and passes for youths 6-18 cost $12. Children 5 and younger ride for free.

Figures come from a City and Borough of Juneau Engineering and Public Works Department memo and the Capital Transit website.

Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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