People Mover bus system weighs new home in downtown Anchorage

The People Mover bus system in Anchorage is looking for a permanent location for its transit center in downtown.

Part of the idea is helping make downtown a more walkable, business-friendly destination, said Bart Rudolph, who manages transit planning and communications for People Mover.

“Can transit help be a catalyst for that sort of development?” he asked.

The department has narrowed the choices for a transit center to three sites.

Two new sites would allow buses to circulate within a city block, permitting off-street pickup for all or most riders, depending on the site. One of those spots is near the ConocoPhillips building, where the project would cost $91 million. The other is on a parking lot currently used by Anchorage Fur Rendezvous and the returning Anchorage Market, where the project would cost $25 million.

A third option is cheapest. The transit department could return to the longtime bus hub near the Sixth Avenue parking garage, between G and H streets, for an estimated $800,000.

There, buses still line up and wait along the streets outside the eight-story parking garage, collecting riders at the curb. Drivers can also get breaks there.


But the indoor waiting area at the transit center has been closed since late 2020 after the pandemic began. The parking garage owner, the Anchorage Community Development Authority, shut down the waiting area and related commercial center amid long-running concerns about drug use, public drunkenness and other unruly behavior in the space.

The development authority at the time had also begun pursuing a public-private effort to build a 12-story hotel above the transit center, next to the garage. As part of that project, the authority set aside space for a smaller waiting area of 2,900 square feet. It will be available to the transit department when the hotel is complete, if the transit department chooses to return, said Melinda Gant, external affairs director at the Anchorage Community Development Authority.

But the hotel project has taken longer than expected to build after plans involving an original developer, with a completion date of 2021, fell apart. A new development team is now advancing the project, but a construction date isn’t set.

Rudolph said the transit department initially thought the closure of the waiting area would last 18 months. The delay has led to the search for a permanent transit center, he said.

The delay is disappointing, he said. Bus riders wait outside in the cold in winter, and the closure has likely hurt ridership at the center, he said.

“This was intended to be temporary, and so now we’re just trying to find where our permanent home will be,” Rudolph said.

A long-running effort

The city began thinking about ways to overhaul the transit center in 2015 under the administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan, as concerns grew about high numbers of calls to police and other emergency responders.

People sometimes hung out at the transit center for long periods. The waiting area was large, with concealed spaces and tucked-away bathrooms, helping allow some of the problematic activity to occur, Gant said.

The future indoor waiting area, should the transit center return, will be designed to meet the transit system’s safety standards, she said.

After the development authority shut down the commercial center and closed the indoor waiting area, it paid for outside benches along the building to help riders stay out of the elements, Gant said. It also installed a portable toilet outside in 2021, after there were problems with people relieving themselves outside. The development authority and People Mover also now both provide security at the bus hub, Gant said.

A ‘transformative’ hotel project

The hotel fell behind on its initial construction plans after the authority and the original developer blamed each other for not meeting deadlines.

The new development team, led by Larry Cash, founder of RIM Architects, is continuing the project, though it’s uncertain when the hotel will be built, Gant said. The new team has met its timelines and is working well with the authority, she said.

“We are in high hopes” about the current hotel effort, she said.

Cash said in an interview that things are going well with the hotel project and construction will begin as soon as possible.

He said the new development team is excited to build a “transformative project for downtown.”

The hotel is a large project with many moving parts, he said.

“But it’s a project that is definitely worth the time it will take to get it over the finish line,” he said.


The three sites

People Mover ridership is growing again after a sharp drop during the pandemic, Rudolph said.

The system provided about 2.7 million rides last year, about 19% fewer than a peak in 2019 after bus frequency increased. Ridership at the downtown transit center is also growing again, but it’s down about 21% since 2019.

“If you make it uncomfortable for people to ride the bus, such as waiting outside or waiting along busy roads without protection, people choose other places to get on and off the bus,” Rudolph said.

Or maybe they find alternative transportation altogether, he said.

The three options for the future transit center are described in an online “open house” that launched this month. The city is taking public comment through May 3.

The transit department hopes to use federal money to pay for the project once a preferred option is selected, Rudolph said.

Of the three locations, the lot that’s used by Fur Rondy could support the most bus stops, allowing a significant increase in future transit service, according to the online report. It could provide 10,000 square feet of indoor space for riders, drivers and others, with room to grow. Buses there would park entirely off-street. The site is large enough to support the most additional commercial or recreational uses. It’s located at the Chinook Parking Lot at 225 E St., on city-owned land.

“If we were to go there, the downside to that is those events would have to find a new place,” Rudolph said.


The $91 million option would be built one block west of the Sixth Avenue garage, on a parking lot owned by ConocoPhillips at 801 W. Seventh Ave. That site would require construction of a parking garage for ConocoPhillips’ employees, Rudolph said. It could support 10,000 square feet of indoor space, and buses would largely park off the street. It’s uncertain whether federal funding will pay for construction of a private garage, Rudolph said.

As for the existing site, it offers relatively good accessibility for riders because of its location, according to the online report. But it supports the fewest bus stops, up to 12. It has the least amount of indoor space, the 2,900 square feet set aside by the Anchorage Community Development Authority.

Development at the two new sites could be one to two years away, if one of those options is chosen, Rudolph said.

Cash said the team of private hotel developers supports the option of moving the transit center to the Chinook Parking Lot that’s used by Fur Rondy.

That site would alleviate congestion near the middle of downtown when buses park along curbs at the current hub, he said.

“It’s a better location for transit in the long term,” Cash said of the Chinook site.

Rudolph, with People Mover, said a stakeholder advisory group, consisting of about 30 representatives of downtown businesses, agencies and organizations, has voted in favor of the same site.

Rudolph said People Mover currently has no preference on which site would be best. It would be happy returning to its old digs, if that site is selected and once the hotel project is complete, he said.

“We want the public process to play out,” he said. “We just want a transit center with an indoor waiting space, and if we had to room to grow, that’d be great.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or