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Kenaitze Indian Tribe to pilot new bus system

The tribe is still working on a final design for its first bus.
Courtesy of Kenaitze Indian Tribe
The tribe is still working on a final design for its first bus.

There aren’t many ways to get from point A to point B on the central Kenai Peninsula without a car. Today, there’s one weekday shuttle option through the Central Area Rural Transit System, or CARTS. Otherwise, a taxi cab is the best bet.

Now, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe is working on adding another public transport option. It’s piloting a fixed-route bus service that will take passengers between Nikiski and Sterling, expected to start in 2023.

Brandi Bell is the elders and transportation manager for the tribe. And she’s been thinking about this for a long time.

“I was raised here. And certainly as a youth and a young person, I saw the need for transportation that long ago," she said. "So it’s always been something in the back of my mind. We’re so widely spread out that it makes it very difficult for people to get to the next town over.”

The tribe is piloting the program for tribal members and non-members both using a $1.1 million federal grant. The grant, through the Federal Transit Admin Tribal Transit Program, is geared toward providing more transportation around tribal land in rural areas and will fund a two-year pilot.

The program will be called Kahtnu Area Transit — “Kahtnu” meaning Kenai River in Dena’ina.

“We hope that this will be a compliment to CARTS and to the local cab services in that we may be able to take people those long hauls and then they continue to take people to their final destination," Bell said.

CARTS, which provides the only existing public transport option on the central peninsula, requires appointments in advance and operates on weekdays.

CARTS Executive Director Jennifer Beckmann said the nonprofit is hoping to bring back weekend service, pending a local match for funding.

She said she hasn’t heard specifics about the tribe’s busing plan yet. But she said the more options there are for public transportation on the central peninsula, the better, especially if they can complement each other’s routes.

The tribe does currently have a door-to-door, on-demand service for people who receive services from the tribe. It takes riders to errands and doctor appointments.

But Bell said they haven’t been able to keep up with the demand to get members to school and work, too.

“We started looking at the community as a whole and how transportation affects everyone, in that if you don’t have the transportation, you’re not making those doctors appointments, you’re not able to have these healthy community connections," she said.

This route will serve the general public, she said, expanding beyond those who receive services from the tribe.

Bell said there will be a fee associated.

“We have not determined what that fee scale will be," she said. "But it will be very affordable because the goal is to connect people with community activities at an affordable price.”

Bell said the new system will travel between Nikiski and Sterling several times a day, making stops on a to-be-determined route. She said the tribe is working with the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula Borough to work out the best places for stops — like Fred Meyer, the Kenai Municipal Airport and Central Peninsula Hospital.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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