MASCOT cuts hurt those who need it most

A Wasilla Senior Center employee helps a man onto a MASCOT bus in this Frontiersman file photo. The culmination of a three-year project is reaching fruition with the merger of the MASCOT (Mat-Su Community Transit) and Valley Mover.

PALMER — The culmination of a three-year project is reaching fruition with the merger of the MASCOT (Mat-Su Community Transit) and Valley Mover.

Effective June 5, Valley Transit will offer Valley commuters to Anchorage locations as well as local riders in the Palmer-Wasilla core area a more streamlined but expanded service. Valley Transit Executive Director Jennifer Tew said the non-profit agency is accepting public comment on the new schedule. She said the entity's goal is to provide accessible, sustainable, reliable, efficient, and quality public transit to Mat-Su residents and visitors alike.

The merger was mandated by the State of Alaska in 2014 with a goal of taking the two non-profit entities and rolling them into one, or face losing federal grant dollars. The state believed that by doing so, the overhead of both could be lowered and more funds could be placed into the service end of the overall picture.  Prior to the actual merger, which got its start in July 2016, Valley Mover focused on the commuter corridor from the Valley to Anchorage. MASCOT focused its efforts on moving people throughout the Palmer-Wasilla corridor.

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The Chickaloon Area Transit System (CATS) provides service from Chickaloon and Sutton  to Palmer. Sunshine Transit provides public transportation in the upper Susitna Valley, with a main focus along Talkeetna Spur Road. Smaller providers, such as senior centers, also are part of the overall picture.

Tew said all will fall under the Valley Transit cloak as Alaska, which is a pass-through for federal funds, will soon only fund one source.

Tew said the new entity will have six large buses moving people from the Mat-Su to Anchorage, which is a reduction in fleet. Pick-up from as far as East Lake Mall in Big Lake is included in the daily trips to the state's largest city. At the same time, coverage in the Palmer-Wasilla area will be increased. A complete schedule showing locations and times is pictured on this page. Tew said the demand response pickup, the most requested service, will remain unchanged and part of the route changes is to expand that area of service.

"Our goal is to promote good, reliable service," Tew said, adding another goal is to offer more "on-time" service. She said that has been problematic in the past but is confident the new entity will not be plagued by the shortfall.

Tew said also effective June 5, MASCOT's Purple Pass Program will expire. The program allowed riders to utilize local bus service between Valley locations for a fraction of the regular fare. She encouraged those with pass tickets to use them by the deadline. Valley Transit will continue to offer monthly, daily and one-way passes.

 The "blue route" contains stops in the Valley and the “pink" route features runs from the Mat-Su into Anchorage. Tew said those purchasing pink route passes can also ride the blue route but not vice versa.

Public comment on the final phase of the merger and the route-rate schedule will be accepted through 4 p.m., May 19. The entity's board of directors will meet Thursday, May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Valley Transit offices, 225 West Riley, Wasilla. Comments may also be mailed, or emailed to jtew@valleytransitak.org.

Tew said there are also openings on the Valley Transit Board Advisory Committee. Anyone wishing to be considered should send a cover letter and resume to Tew at the above physical or email address.

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