More cuts ahead for BlueGO bus service | TahoeDailyTribune.com

More cuts ahead for BlueGO bus service

Adam Jensen
ajensen@tahoedailytribune.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – South Shore’s BlueGO bus system will need to reduce service by about 5 percent in the next year to get out of the “crisis mode” it’s been operating under for the past several months and years, according to a Tahoe City-based transportation consultant.

Gordon Shaw, principal at LSC Transportation, told the 14-member South Tahoe Area Transit Authority Board of Directors on Friday they must find a balance between “efficiency” and “equity” to stabilize the bus system they oversee.

STATA will take over operation of the bus system on June 20 after canceling its contract with current bus system operator MV Transportation following a dispute over unpaid bills.

STATA will operate the system with the help of Transportation Resources Center until a permanent operator can be found through a request for proposals process expected to take longer than six months.

Although the bus service has experienced a series of cuts during the past year, more are needed to keep BlueGO operating in the black, Shaw said.

The consultant presented two options to STATA directors, one showing what he felt was the most “efficient” routes and frequencies for South Shore bus service and one showing the most “equitable” for bus riders. Both options included eliminating some routes, reducing the frequency of others and expanding Highway 50 service.

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The most efficient option included the elimination of bus service to the Meyers area, one of the least used and most expensive components of the South Shore system, Shaw said.

STATA Directors did not make a decision on how to modify routes and frequencies on Friday and will likely use a combination of the options presented by Shaw.

The Board’s Operations and Maintenance Committee is scheduled to look at potential changes to the BlueGO system at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s South Shore offices.

The full STATA board will decide how the bus system should be changed at a subsequent meeting.

Because of the recent series of cuts to the BlueGO service, STATA Directors need to be aggressive in notifying people of any changes when they are made, said South Lake Tahoe resident and BlueGO dispatcher Adam Weber on Friday.

“Tahoe people don’t take kindly to change, especially rapid change,” Weber said. “We see drop offs (in ridership) every time there’s a route change. People are confused.”

Weber said he supported a phased in approach suggested by South lake Tahoe Mayor and STATA Director Kathay Lovell.

Shaw said route changes could be implemented the week after Labor Day to avoid service changes during the busy summer season.

But Lovell said STATA’s needed savings could be accomplished sooner and disruption to BlueGO riders could be minimized if a phased approach is used beginning as soon as notification requirements allow.

“There needs to be some sense of urgency here,” Lovell said.

Urgency is also needed in resolving STATA’s financial issues with MV Transportation, said Nate Smith, the company’s Western President, at Friday’s meeting.

The financial issues between STATA and MV need to be “immediately resolved,” Smith said.

Representatives of MV contend STATA owes the transportation company more than $2.38 million dollars, but the figure has been questioned by at least one STATA Director.

Smith said he was disappointed with the transit authority’s decision to end its contract with MV, but said the company is willing to work with the STATA to find a resolution.

Jennifer Woelfel, an attorney representing MV Transportation, agreed.

“We’re hoping what we can reach an agreement, so litigation isn’t necessary,” Woelfel said following Friday’s meeting.

STATA Treasurer Dan Garrison said he wanted to pay MV as soon as possible, but where the money will come from isn’t entirely clear.

The money owed to MV wasn’t included in Shaw’s Friday presentation.

“(Shaw’s) report was the first step in the process of restructuring the routes to fit within a budget that allows for repayment of the MV debt,” wrote STATA Director and spokeswoman Stacy Dingman in an e-mail Friday. “STATA is still working on refining its budget and is working with LSC to refine the system to fit within the budget.”

Whether STATA would adhere to the terms of a three year collective bargaining agreement detailing wages, hours and working conditions for MV employees was also a concern of Bob Blanchet, an international representative of the Teamsters union who attended Friday’s meeting.

He said he has yet to talk with STATA regarding the agreement and hopes to start a dialogue.

Blanchet missed the general public comment period at the start of Friday’s meeting and was tersely told to sit down by Douglas County Commissioner and STATA Board President Nancy McDermid when he tried to speak about union concerns during a public comment period for a specific agenda item.

The transit authority intends to discuss Blanchet’s concerns, Dingman said in a second e-mail Friday.

“STATA has not discussed that yet and are looking forward to Bob sending us his questions and concerns.” Dingman said. “It is unfortunate he was unable to make the public comment portion of the meeting. Nevada Revised Statutes prevent us from allowing him to discuss his matters when he tried to earlier.”

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