In the Upper Valley, Sunshine Transit is proof that public transportation is not limited to urban areas. The big white van that serves the Talkeetna area works on a schedule, just like a city bus. There are scheduled routes and bus stops where passengers can wait for a ride, and passengers can also flag the van down along the Talkeetna Spur. Unlike many public transportation systems around the country, however, Transit is not run by a municipal government. It is a program of the Sunshine Clinic, and all of the drivers and staff are technically Clinic employees. Sue Deyoe manages Sunshine Transit, and explains how the idea for the service came about.
“It originally started from a seminar or symposium that happened in the fall of 2008, where a number of people, I would say dozens of people–they were PTA, teachers, health providers–got together and said, ‘What’s our biggest problem?” The biggest problem ended up being transportation to and from places, so that’s really why Sunshine Transit started.”
The program began when Mike Sterling donated his van and his time to helping people get around. Since it began, ridership has consistently grown by about thirty percent each year. Now, the service has begun operating in Willow and Trapper Creek as well. Passengers can get rides for medical appointments, and to the grocery store and food bank. Students also use Transit to get home after school activities, which allows kids whose parents don’t have vehicles the opportunity to participate in sports and clubs more easily.
Thanks to new federal grant funding, Sue Deyoe says that there are plans to expand services even further.
“Probably in the spring, have Saturday service. I’m trying to work on a couple of things, right now, where we’re providing more services in the wintertime, possibly on weekends, and even as far as going to Wasilla once or twice a month–picking one day out of the week.”
Sue Deyoe says that those rides to Wasilla are likely to be much cheaper than taking the train or hiring a van service based in the Lower Valley. Because Transit operates using matching grants from the Federal Transportation Authority and community donations, fares make up about a tenth of its budgeted income, which means prices can be kept low for those who might not otherwise be able to afford a ride. Last year, Sunshine Transit was authorized to give rides funded by Medicaid, as well. Low-income patients who need to reach the Clinic or an appointment with a specialist in Wasilla or Anchorage can call and arrange a ride, which will then be paid for by the state program. Sue Deyoe says she believes allowing low-income patients to receive preventative care and allow them to obtain healthy food provides a great benefit.
“If young people who have babies and don’t have a lot of income can get to the Clinic and get their babies immunized and whatever else needs to be done, and if people can actually get to the grocery store and get vegetables, fruit, and meat–everything else they need–you’re providing overall wellness in the community.”
Sunshine Transit’s expansion of services is based around a five-year plan, and Sue Deyoe says that ideas and input are always welcome. Contact information for Sunshine Transit, as well as schedules, can be found online at sunshinetransit.org.