Nome Eskimo Community brings free public transportation to Nome
Since the end of May, Nome Eskimo Community offers a free public transportation service in Nome. The handicap-accessible bus has a capacity of 14 passengers, or 12 riders and a wheelchair. It runs two fixed routes and stops at a total of 21 locations in Nome multiple times each weekday.
Executive Director of NEC Emma Pate said that plans for the service started in 2013, when the tribe was awarded a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. In October of last year, NEC ran a bus for 13 students attending the Nome Preschool, and in late May expanded the route to 21 locations and the opportunity for people of all ages.
Currently the service is in its implementation stage, so it is free of cost, but Pate said NEC will eventually charge a minimal fee.
Pate said that in the beginning the van had just one passenger riding to and from work every day, but due to increased awareness about the service, attendance has picked up. Now, a handful of people take advantage of the free ride each day, she said.
Pate believes that it is important to have a method of public transit in Nome because of the distances people need to cover on a daily basis. “Nome isn’t very large compared to a lot of places, but the need for public transportation is still there,” she explained. Walking is a healthy alternative to driving, but it can be time consuming, unsafe in certain areas and conditions, and difficult for elders and people with disabilities. For example, the bus will offer Nomeites who would otherwise walk, shelter from dust, which Pate said is a growing health concern. For Nome residents without cars, the only alternative to the NEC van is to take a cab, which can be expensive.
The NEC transit bus runs its regular route from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. along with additional 4:35 p.m. and 5:05 p.m. pickups from Norton Sound Regional Hospital to any of the published stops.
The bus leaves from the intersection of East 4th Avenue and Bering Street and travels to Norton Sound Regional Hospital before looping back to Alaska Commercial Company and ending at Hanson’s/Safeway and beginning the next run. There are 11 stops along this route, which takes a half hour for the driver to complete. This leaves transit users with at least 30 minutes in each location before they board the bus again. The bus completes eight runs on the set schedule as well as the two additional runs starting from NSRH.
The early bird route departs from the Icy View Fire Hall at 7:25 a.m., stops at Martinson’s Willow Ridge Subdivision and goes as far out as Belmont Point before making additional stops around town. Full schedules for both routes are available at the NEC website.