Sitkans weighed in on possible changes to taxi, tour, and shuttle regulations at a town hall meeting on Tuesday (7-18-23). The event was the second opportunity for public comment in what the city administration says is likely to be a months- or years-long process to solve the community’s emerging transportation crisis.
Over the course of the two-hour meeting, taxi and tour operators and other members of the public offered input on proposed language based on Juneau’s city code. It would change permitting and fee structures for commercial transport vehicles in town.
Public input largely boiled down to two themes: one, people can’t reliably get a taxi in Sitka, and two, operators feel stymied by perceived overreach from the city.
Laura Rogers, who operates a service called Sitka Rides, said that being classified as a shuttle service means that she sometimes can’t provide transport to people who need it.
“I got a call from somebody today who wanted a lift from Seamart to the harbor,” Rogers said. “And I had to say, we’re a shuttle. We can’t take you. And they said, ‘we’ve called seven different cab companies. They’re all busy.’ And the reality is the code, the ordinances that we’re putting in place? We’re not Juneau, we’re Sitka.”
Kaleb Astle of Alaska Coach Tours suggested that the city find ways to reduce paperwork and fees to make it easier and less expensive for operators:
“We background check at Alaska Coach Tours,” Astle said. “Take our background check. Why isn’t that enough? Why should I have to go again and get some more paperwork and do one more thing?”
Darby Osborne, who interacts with visitors regularly in her work at the front desk of Harrigan Centennial Hall, said that lack of transportation is especially evident during the high season for tourism.
“It’s just complete gridlock,” Osborne said. “You can’t take the RIDE, you can’t take a taxi, all the tours are booked, and on a day like tomorrow, when there’s over 9000 people, there’s just nothing that people can do.”
Other suggestions tossed out were expanding the RIDE system operated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska, introducing taxi meters, a dispatcher service, and allowing exemptions for operators picking up people in need.
The topic of ride-shares also came up. While Uber and Lyft are not prohibited by city code, it’s unclear if there are other barriers to ride-shares in Sitka. Both of those services currently operate with limited availability in Juneau.
The next opportunity for public comment on proposed changes to Sitka’s transportation ordinance will be at the Police and Fire Commission meeting at Harrigan Centennial Hall on Wednesday, July 26 at 5:30pm.