Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

Juneau residents Summer Marvin and Adam Paul were waiting Friday evening for their bus at the Nugget Mall stop, which they said they ride almost daily from the Federal Building downtown and back without any difficulties even though cruise ship visitors are now among the passengers.

“Sometimes it’s standing room only, but that’s pretty normal I’d say,” Paul said. “There’s tourists on the bus with us, sure, but I’ve never seen anyone turned away because of it.”

Local concerns over visitors flooding public transportation that surfaced last year are continuing this year, but a new bus route added April 22 is balancing the volume.

Last July, the Tourism Best Management Practices (TBMP) hotline received a complaint from a Juneau resident who was unable to board the bus due to tourists traveling to the Mendenhall Glacier. TBMP Administrator Elizabeth Arnett said the situation was new when that complaint was received because tour operators had only recently used the bulk of their permits allowing commercial trips to the glacier.

However, further complaints from residents resulted in city officials examining solutions for the problem.

During the winter and spring, tour operators worked to revise their daily permit allotments to spread them out more equally over the season. Arnett said this activity has resulted in “innovative tour ideas which combine the glacier with other activities, as well as the two glacier shuttle companies revising their shuttle service to be more controlled, giving guests two hours at the glacier rather than unlimited time as in past years.”

Additionally, the City and Borough of Juneau and U.S. Forest Service worked to create statements concerning the use of Capital Transit buses to get to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. The nearest bus stop is 1.5 miles from the visitor center with no restrooms or other services in between.

As of Friday, TBMP has received four complaints submitted to the hotline in 2024 concerning visitors on the city bus at the Mendenhall Back Loop bus stop.

Hal Kulm, lead operator and acting supervisor for Capital Transit, said by remapping and increasing the frequency of service on Route 8, the Valley/Downtown Express, they haven’t had to refuse service to anyone this summer.

“So what we’ve done this year specifically is we’ve grown our service in this Valley 8 Express, and we’ve never had this before leaving the transit center,” he said. “We’re leaving the transit center every 15 minutes headed to the valley. Huge, huge, huge transition for Capital Transit. As far as local service goes, we’ve had days where we’ve had five ships in, we haven’t had one day where we’ve had to turn anyone away. We haven’t drove by anyone standing at a bus stop. We’ve greatly increased our service leaving that transit center.”

Kulm added that last year on five-ship days they were “driving by people left and right,” but now those days are gone.

“It’s not that we’ve went out to accommodate the tourists,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it, we’re public transportation. They walk up, they give us two bucks, we gotta give them a ride. We’ve changed our schedule, taken the resources that we have, and we’ve moved them into a service that we feel accommodates everybody, the people visiting our city, and the people who live here. The people who live here obviously are a huge concern.”

Kulm added the drivers on the express routes also enjoy the new schedules because it has balanced workflows and “reduced burnout.”

Tourists huddling under umbrellas Thursday at the downtown Capital Transit center said locally provided information is proving helpful.

Emily Coggins from Birmingham, Alabama, found “How To Ride” information while Googling transportation in Juneau before her trip. She said it was difficult to find transportation options and the website’s tips made her feel confident in her ability to navigate.

“The walk to the glacier from the closest stop is worth it to save some money,” she said.

Marc Belanger and his wife, Julie, from Ottawa, Canada, also decided to use Capital Transit during their trip. For their cruise ship, the excursions to Mendenhall Glacier were sold out so their only option was a shuttle bus they were told cost $90 – or $2 each way for public transit.

Belanger said that while the Capital Transit ride is cheaper than public transportation back home, it wasn’t their deciding factor.

“I think it was the ease. You know, my wife did some research,” he said. “We were going to see the glacier. So it was really easy to get off the cruise ship and get on the bus, get there, do what we had to do, and come right back.”

“I appreciate the fact that for us we’re in fairly good shape, especially for people our age,” Belanger added. “We don’t mind taking transit and we don’t mind walking, so for us it was fine. If you’re going to the glacier the public transit is not an overly accessible option if you’re elderly or have mobility issues.”

Find Capital Transit bus schedules here.

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

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