Western Kenai Peninsula residents can now get to Homer, Kenai or Ninilchik by shuttle, courtesy of the Ninilchik Traditional Council.
The tribal government, based in the small community of Ninilchik about 40 miles south of Soldotna, recently launched its long-planned public transportation system. A bus runs between Homer and Kenai/Soldotna on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving Ninilchik at 8:30 a.m. on its way to Homer, then heads for Kenai, then back to Homer before docking back in Ninilchik for the night. A one-way ticket costs $7, a round trip $10.
Though the Ninilchik Traditional Council is an Alaska Native tribal government, the service is open to anyone in the public. It’s been a long time in the planning process — the tribe first began considering a public transit program in 2007, said Environment and Resources Director Darrel Williams. It’s called BUMPS — the Basic Unified Multi-Path Service.
“We built the building here in Ninilchik just for this,” he said. “…If (passengers) want to come and park here, that’s an option. We always thought that this is a good place too, because it’s central. And then the other part that’s been a challenge is that because it’s such a large area, can we pick somebody up in Homer, get them to Kenai and home in one day? We don’t want anybody to get stranded.”
The tribe built a separate hub for its transportation services and has been working out the funding and planning details for the actual bus service since. The northern leg of the route, between Ninilchik and Kenai, has been running for several months, but it took a little more time to work out the licensing issues with the city of Homer to start running the southern route. But now both are up and running, running with one vehicle for now with the possibility of expanding to two, Williams said.
The bus runs a fixed route, meaning passengers have to make their way to central locations from their homes to get a ride. Right now, they’re making stops in the towns that are common for riders, such as the Cheeky Moose store in Anchor Point, the Safeway in Homer, Fred Meyer in Soldotna and at Walmart and the Kenai Municipal Airport in Kenai. They’re open to suggestions, such as stopping at the hospitals in Soldotna or Homer, Williams said.