Kathy Gensel and Tim Navarre make suggestions on a preliminary route for the Kahtnu Area Transit at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kathy Gensel and Tim Navarre make suggestions on a preliminary route for the Kahtnu Area Transit at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Getting people where they need to go

Plans for Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Kahtnu Area Transit move forward

As plans for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Kahtnu Area Transit — a public fixed route bus service being developed by the tribe under a grant from the Federal Transit Authority — begin to coalesce, the tribe and consulting firm R&M Consultants say there are a lot of big decisions to be made about what the route will look like — with alternatives and trade-offs that need to be weighed.

That was the central message of a public meeting held Wednesday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, where Planner Bryant Wright from R&M led a conversation and fielded questions about a preliminary route for the first year of service for the in-development fixed route bus service.

Wright described two buses simultaneously moving around Kenai and Soldotna, hitting 21 stops while moving in opposite directions between the two cities. The service would run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., with each stop seeing a bus every 30 to 45 minutes.

Kenaitze Elders and Transportation Manager Brandi Bell said that the designs for the buses were still being approved by the FTA for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, but that they were expected to have between 36 and 52 seats, with space planned for overhead luggage and carriers for bicycles.

The 21 potential identified stops, Bryant said, were informed by the results of a community survey conducted in September that drew around 300 responses. The two buses moving in opposite directions increases freedom of movement — “people aren’t always going in the same direction” — and the frequency of arrivals at each stop.

The survey responses described grocery shopping, errands, work and recreation as the most common reasons to travel; said that people were willing to walk around 10 minutes to reach a bus stop; and that they were willing to ride no more than 30-45 minutes to reach their destinations.

“This service is going to be successful if it gets people where they want to go, when they want to go and if it’s convenient and increases their freedom,” Wright said.

Stops described on the preliminary list include the Dena’ina Wellness Center, the Kenai Airport, Walmart, Safeway and Three Bears in Kenai, as well as Central Peninsula Hospital, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Soldotna Creek Park and the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank in Soldotna, among others.

Those stops are intended to target “trip generators” in the two cities. They also aren’t locked in, Wright said, and may even be shifted after the service is started as they collect real-time data and feedback about what is and isn’t working. To keep the service as fast as possible, the buses need to minimize turns, avoid deviations and always move forward.

Stops also need to be located in places where people can safely wait for the bus, so, “not on the side of a dark road in the middle of winter.” Wright said they’re looking for commercial areas where people can stay warm and productive while they wait — but said they might also develop infrastructure in other areas.

“We are going to evaluate the hard trade-offs,” Wright said.

Around the room on Wednesday were printed maps of the routes — each stop surrounded by a pink bubble that showed the estimated distance of a 10-minute walk, or “walksheds.” The cities of Kenai and Soldotna were entirely covered, but coverage grows sparser in residential areas or between the cities — Wright said finding stops on Kalifornsky Beach Road, for example, was challenging.

The firm collected feedback from attendees on Wednesday about what they thought about the stops, what made sense and where seemed to need more attention. One area that offered a tough decision, Wright said, was in central Kenai, where a stop is proposed at the Old Carrs Mall, close to places like the banks and the job center, but a nearby alternate option is at IGA, closer to the post office, library and movie theater.

The goal, Wright said, is to ensure that the service sees the ridership necessary to see it grow.

“It’s going to be a relationship between the transportation system and the community — relying on each other — to provide service and to use service to support that service,” he said. “So we need to be putting the bus where people are. It’s gotta be fast and frequent.”

Those concerns are why he said that despite a lot of desire to include service to Nikiski or Sterling, the current scope of the service could make that unfeasible. If either of the two buses are driving out to Nikiski or Sterling, that would increase wait times in Kenai and Soldotna.

“If you move a bus one place, it’s not in another,” He said.

That’s a long turnaround that Wright said is likely to see a significantly lower passenger-to-mile ratio. That’s something that is still being explored for some sort of limited service but may need to be added in later years.

Attendees suggested collaboration with other existing services, like the Central Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) or Basic Unified Multi-Path Service (BUMPS) to ferry people from those communities into the network of stops that will be covered by the Kahtnu Area Transit. Wright said those partnerships are being considered, and that the service will also make deviations up to a certain radius as part of its ADA compliance to accommodate people in need of a scheduled direct pickup.

Wright said that the service is also weighing contracts with digital services that can allow for options like real-time GPS tracking of the buses for passengers or mobile payments. He said they’re looking for feedback on what services are valued because not every package necessarily contains all the same tools.

Kenaitze Tribal Programs Director Chelsea Hendriks said that the launch of the service, or even any projected date of a launch, is contingent on approvals and assessments from the FTA. Pricing, too, is still undetermined as the tribe works to assess the budget and route. Bryant said there likely would be a variety of options, such as single-ride or day passes.

For more information, find “Kenaitze Indian Tribe” on Facebook or visit kenaitze.org.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Bryant Wright speaks about the decisions facing the in-development Kahtnu Area Transit during a public meeting at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Bryant Wright speaks about the decisions facing the in-development Kahtnu Area Transit during a public meeting at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Kenai and Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Kenai and Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Kenai route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Kenai route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary full coverage map for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A preliminary full coverage map for the Kahtnu Area Transit sits ready for comment alongside markers and sticky notes at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Tim Navarre, left, and Dana Cannava discuss a preliminary Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit with Planner Bryant Wright at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Tim Navarre, left, and Dana Cannava discuss a preliminary Soldotna route for the Kahtnu Area Transit with Planner Bryant Wright at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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