Assaults and drugs are ongoing issues at Anchorage bus stops, the city wants to put a stop to it

Kennedy Kehoe, a regular bus commuter in Anchorage, stands waiting at her usual bus stop on...
Kennedy Kehoe, a regular bus commuter in Anchorage, stands waiting at her usual bus stop on Spenard Rd. (KTUU)
Published: May. 6, 2019 at 8:52 PM AKDT
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Public transit in Anchorage could receive a makeover, as the city looks to improve public safety at People Mover bus stops, following ongoing reports of physical assault and public intoxication.

The Municipality of Anchorage has tried to clean up city bus stops before, according to chair of the Public Safety Advisory Commission Nick Danger.

“Three years ago, we brought it up and nothing happened,” Danger said. This time around, he hopes horror stories told by everyday commuters on People Mover, Anchorage’s public transportation line, will help bring about actual change.

Kennedy Kehoe rides the bus to and from work at least five days a week from her home in Spenard to the Egan Center downtown. She says she’s had multiple confrontations with people loitering at her stop on Spenard and Wyoming Dr.

“One time, I was waiting for the bus and a gentleman sat down next to me with a needle sticking out of his arm,” Kehoe said. “He was really messed up. That really scared me.” However, that interaction was mild compared to others she’s lived through.

Kehoe stands at 5 feet 4 inches tall. She was waiting at her usual stop at 12:30 in the afternoon when a grown man she had never met approached her and started screaming at her -- she felt helpless.

“He shoved me really hard, and it caused me to fall down, then he hit me in the face,” Kehoe said.

The man continued to assault her as others waiting at the bus stop just stood by. Finally, a good Samaritan saw what was happening and sprinted from the north side of Spenard Rd. to help. Kehoe learned her lesson that day – now she carries a taser with her everywhere she goes.

“I was horrified,” she said. “I couldn’t believe at my age that somebody would do that to me.”

City officials are listening to stories like Kehoe’s coming in from across Anchorage. Felix Rivera, chair of the Anchorage Assembly, says enhancing security around city bus stops starts with addressing Anchorage’s mental health crisis.

“The Public Safety Advisory Commission understands that mental health has to go hand-in-hand with all of these other public safety issues,” Rivera said.

Rivera rode the bus for five years as his sole source of transportation when he served on the Public Safety Advisory Commission. He experienced his share of traumatic experiences during that time.

“There were some situations where I frankly felt unsafe,” he said. “So, I understand where this is coming from.”

This isn’t only a problem for commuters, Rivera said.

“We need to take this seriously, both for the folks who are using it, and for the drivers,” he said. “We have had situations in the past where the drivers have been assaulted, and that’s not good.”

Planning and Communications Manager for Anchorage's Public Transportation Department, Bart Rudolph, says they’ve already taken proactive steps in 2019 to police bus stops around Anchorage. He says they now have a “dedicated road supervisor”.

“He’s out there every day, going to some of the known problem locations, and where loitering seems to happen the most, just making sure people are there to ride the bus and moving people along who aren’t,” Rudolph said.

Assembly Chair Rivera says once the ordinance is heard on the Assembly floor Tuesday, it will go to the Public Safety Advisory Committee, chaired by Assembly members Forrest Dunbar and Pete Petersen. The committee will then begin brainstorming ways to make Anchorage’s bus stops safer for everyone.