(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: What is the validity of the cruise ship survey?

How good are people’s memories about problems?

  • Wednesday, December 1, 2021 5:09pm
  • Opinion

By Mike Clemens

The Nov. 30 Empire article about cruise ship impact contained a lot of useful background, but failed to emphasize a major point, which I consider a flawed approach. People surveyed were asked in late 2021 about their opinions of the 2019 season. With the 2020 season canceled, and substantially fewer cruise ships with limited passengers in the shortened 2021 season, how good are people’s memories about problems? It sure seems better to ask people what they remember right after the end of a season that’s just been completed and that’s our apparent future.

As someone selected for the phone survey, I had to think back two years, but did my best to answer their questions. Still, I consider those survey results marginally useful to policy makers, not really valid. The only real value from the 2021 survey was citizen comment on the upcoming development of another cruise ship dock. Property tax revenue should be substantial given the reported sales price of the unique parcel and a new emphasis on commercial values.

What’s also important is that now the city will conduct an annual survey, not just periodically. However, survey questions need serious redesign to better assess overall community impact.

Juneau is filled with a lot of informed, engaged residents who might be willing to suggest questions for inclusion in the 2022 survey, if asked. The 2021 survey of the 2019 season can’t seriously be considered baseline content for analysis because of its two-year delay. When the 2022 fall survey of the 2022 season is completed, results are likely to be much more reliable.

Now that the city manager will have a full-time staff assistant for cruise ship tourism, maybe the public will get some research done rather than just have a survey of local feelings. Why not try to gather objective facts? Maybe the city will consult with state traffic analysts to see the results of their data about how much traffic increases during a normal cruise ship season.

Maybe all the additional big buses, mid-sized buses and rental cars on the road during the May thru October cruise ship season increase travel time from downtown offices to the Mendenhall Valley where many employees live. Maybe it will be possible to measure transit time when floating cities are in town compared to off-season commutes. If cruise ships cause each car to spend 5 more minutes in traffic each day during rush hour, is that a problem? Juneau’s traffic options are limited, but maybe the new roundabouts on the Loop Road will reduce congestion.

While COVID protocols allowed many employees to work from home, my hunch is that those who still had to commute daily to places downtown, like state and city offices, benefited from not having as much traffic on the road during rush hour when the summer weather was good.

In my youth, travel on busy Lower 48 freeways meant a lot of traffic. Trucks, especially 18- wheelers, and double, even triple trailers seemed to be everywhere, but a few of them had a message on the back. The signs said something like: “This vehicle pays $1,800 in taxes each year.” I don’t know what tour buses pay to drive on local roads, (should they pay more?), but I do know that tour buses have to pay something to the U.S. Forest Service to park out at the Mendenhall Glacier for tours. Out-of-state buses don’t get to park for free.

It will be interesting to see how the city manager and Assembly uses its new employee to improve things and whether local residents will be able to ask relevant questions about a controversial area that has elicited numerous editorial attacks on anyone who even raised issues about cruise ship tourism. Stifling informed discussion seems to be the new normal.

Finally, I’ve not yet seen a comprehensive analysis of both costs and benefits of the local tourism industry, so maybe it’s time to improve upon past efforts and get as many facts as possible out in the open for public consideration and review. Juneau’s place as a world-class destination is beyond question and its local government shouldn’t sell out use of its infrastructure on the cheap.

• Mike Clemens is a former statewide budget analyst. He resides in Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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