Anchorage's public bus system has been a blessing
October 1, 2017
We used to have two cars until a few years ago when the 1992 Dodge Grand Caravan suddenly made loud clunking noises and stopped running – forever. On the one hand we were sad to see her go. My wife and I had lots of shared memories about taking the “red rocket” on camping trips around Alaska, and even a three-month car-camping excursion down the Alcan and around the western half of the United States.
On the other hand, two cars for two people seemed a bit excessive. We could save thousands of dollars a year by sharing a single car. Lower-cost insurance and fewer new tires, repairs, gas fill-ups, flats, and breakdowns. So, I decided to give the Anchorage bus system, People Mover, a try. Haven’t looked back since.
It took a while to get used to planning ahead to catch a particular bus at a particular time, but after a while it got to be second nature. As a senior (age 60 or older) I am eligible for half-price fares. There are several options. Show your “government-issued picture ID” – like a driver’s license – and put a dollar in the machine next to the driver for a one-way trip. $2.50 will get you a day pass for unlimited rides. You can also buy a variety of passes such as monthly or annual passes at local libraries and at the downtown bus station. Bonus alert: seniors ride free on Wednesdays.
I opted for an annual pass priced at the senior discount rate of $330. That is less than a dollar a day for unlimited bus rides anywhere in Anchorage for a full year. I also purchased a fairly inexpensive data plan for my smart phone so I can do email and look up stuff on favorite websites while cruising to my destination via People Mover. Ahhh, transportation nirvana.
Generally, the bus-riding experience is uneventful to downright pleasant. Most of the drivers are friendly, and some are talkative and entertaining once you get them going. The buses are typically clean and comfortable. Fellow passengers generally mind their own business, but there are some regulars who I am always happy to see and chat with. Occasionally there is the odiferous inebriate, but if need be I just move to another part of the bus and all is good.
Big changes are coming
The entire People Mover bus system is being restructured to increase ridership and revenue. Beginning October 23, 2017, People Mover planners promise:
• 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 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 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.
The downside is that some neighborhoods in Anchorage will actually have less service. If you would like additional information, call 907-343-6543. All the details can be found online at muni.org/Departments/transit/PeopleMover/.
If a regular city bus is too difficult to manage, maybe AnchorRIDES will work for you. Think of it as a cross between a small city bus and a taxi. It is a shared ride service in Anchorage that picks you up at your front door and takes you where you need to go in most areas of Anchorage.
There is an eligibility requirement. Seniors age 60 and older, persons with disabilities, and Medicaid recipients, among others, are eligible. But you have to fill out a little paperwork to get approved. One-way fares range from $2.50 to $5.50. Bonus for seniors: free rides are available for trips to selected sites such as to non-emergency health care, adult daycare, senior meal programs, pharmacies, and employment and volunteer sites.
To inquire about eligibility, routes, fares and how to get a user manual, call customer service: 907-343-6543, or visit the website at: muni.org/Departments/transit/AnchorRides/.
Lawrence Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.