Dan Beadle
Special to the Bonanza

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September 26, 2012
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Guest Column: Was the East Shore Express really a success?

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — “Officials” say the Sand Harbor shuttle was successful? I guess success depends upon your perspective.

I spend part of my early career helping set up a public transportation system in Orange County, California. Using the numbers from the Bonanza article, I pulled out some interesting statistics.

First, while the buses were ridden heavily over the Fourth of July Weekend, the average ridership for the season was only 5.6 people per trip. Seems like a pretty big bus for only 5.6 people. That seems like a huge waste to me. And, if you exclude July 1-8, the average ridership was as low as 4.7 riders/trip.

Looking at the financial implications, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I assume that they spent all of their grant money, along with the $1.50 to $3 per ride collected. That is about $230,000 to provide 12,155 rides. That works out to be a cost of $18.95 per ride for which they collected $1.50 to $3. Every round trip cost taxpayers about $33.90 in subsidy.

Said another way, each bus trip cost about $105 for the bus to go to Sand Harbor and back. That’s $10.50/mile. I guess running at a loss is successful to bureaucrats.

So, what about the environment. Surely they must have saved air pollution — right? Well, New York City estimates a fleet MPG of 1.7 to 2.33. So, if we multiply by the 5.6 riders, we get 9.5 to 13 passenger MPG (PMPG). The Bureau of Transportation Statistics rates automobiles at 35.7 PMPG. That number sounds a little light for the Sand Harbor trip. It would take an occupancy of only two people in a car getting 18 MPG to reach that number. So with only 5.6 passengers per trip, the buses have a carbon footprint that is at least three times larger.

Clearly, there were periods when visitors to Sand Harbor would be turned away due to lack of parking had it not been for the buses. But how many of the 81 days would have been affected? Would an auto arriving at 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday be turned away?

From my prior experience, public transit doesn’t make sense in suburban — much less rural areas like Incline Village. To be financially and ecologically successful, you need high utilization of a shared resource. That takes high-density population.

While well intentioned, the Sand Harbor shuttle just doesn’t look successful to me. Running mostly empty buses is inefficient — both economically and environmentally.

— Dan Beadle is an Incline Village resident.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 26, 2012 08:25PM Published Sep 26, 2012 08:23PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.