A sign displays the logo of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign displays the logo of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Senior centers, social services suggested as stops for Kenaitze fixed-route bus

Project leaders on a proposed fixed-route bus service for the central Kenai Peninsula are requesting public input on what the scope of that service should include.

Updates on the project, which will be piloted by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, were presented Wednesday to attendees at a luncheon hosted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The Kenaitze tribe in summer 2022 received a $1.1 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration Tribal Transit Program to pilot the project, which proposes fixed-route bus service between Sterling and Nikiski. The cities of Kenai and Soldotna, as well as the Kenai Peninsula Borough, have also thrown their support behind Kenaitze’s efforts to establish a fixed-route service.

Transportation has long been identified as a need for residents on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Fixed-route services, where a vehicle makes scheduled stops at designated areas, are different from on-demand services, where a rider calls a company when they need a ride to a specific destination.

There are already companies on the central peninsula that provide residents with on-demand transportation services, said Kahtnu Area Transit project lead Van Le, the planning department manager for R&M Consultants who presented Wednesday’s updates. A fixed-route service, she said, would complement those on-demand services.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe already makes various types of transportation services available to tribal members. The fixed-route service would be available to everyone, including nontribal members.

“They currently have a very robust transportation program, but there’s also more demand and a greater need that could be met by a fixed route,” Le said.

Bryant Wright, also of R&M Consultants, said the firm’s work in the immediate future, which will include a new community service and planning session this fall, will focus on what the first two years of the pilot program should look like. Once it is operational, Ve said they can focus on long-term plans and how to make the service sustainable.

“We’ll be looking well into the future, but designing something specifically for the next year or two,” Wright said. “Then there will be some suggestions on how you could expand that if it’s working and the resources are available.”

Attendees at Wednesday’s luncheon suggested various places they think a fixed-route bus should make stops, placing emphasis on connecting residents with crucial services.

Karen Martin-Tichenor, representing the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition, asked that project leads consider establishing a fixed route that makes stops on Kalifornsky Beach Road, where many social service organizations are located, such as Love INC, independent living centers and the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

“There’s just a number of social services that I know Kenaitze (uses) as much as anyone else uses,” Martin-Tichenor said. “It’s a concern because that on-demand (service) can get really expensive, versus the fixed route.”

Similarly, former Central Peninsula Hospital CFO Lance Spindler suggested route stops at senior centers in Sterling and Nikiski, as well as at health care providers, like the Kenai Capstone Clinic and urgent care centers.

“If you could look and make sure that the health resources and the senior resources are included in your study, I think that would absolutely boost your participation by the community and also just be a real benefit to the community at large,” Spindler said.

Once completed, Le said the new community survey will be available online.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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