TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Despite having lower-than-expected ridership last year, the North Lake Tahoe free skier shuttle will return — with some changes — for the 2013-14 winter.
The five-bus fleet has been reduced to two, with service running between Incline Village and Squaw Valley and between Homewood and Squaw.
Riders will have access to Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Alpine Meadows and Homewood, while Northstar will be accessible through a voucher program with Placer County lodging properties.
“We ... look forward to increasing ridership and setting the stage for a successful season,” said Jaime Wright, executive director of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.
Service will run from Dec. 21, 2013, to March 16, 2014, on weekends and holiday weeks for a total of 46 service days. Holiday weeks are: Dec. 22-Dec. 28, Dec. 29-Jan.4, Feb. 9-Feb.15 and Feb. 16-Feb. 22.
In Incline, the shuttle can be accessed at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe at 111 Country Club Drive.
There will be two morning and afternoon runs on service days, with the voucher program offering mid-day transfers. While details are being developed, guests staying at Placer County lodging properties can request a voucher at the front desk to use existing TART routes/schedule to access resorts serviced by the ski shuttle and Northstar.
TART will run the free shuttle, replacing private bus service provider Amador Stage Lines. Of the total $224,289 program cost last winter, 73.7 percent went to Amador Stage Lines for its service and buses.
“Cost savings are substantial over (a) private provider for this particular program,” Wright said. “This also assists us with our efforts in getting a regional branding and similar look throughout the transportation system.”
This winter, the program is expected to cost $101,181, with $58,581 going toward TART operations, $28,000 for marketing and signage by the TMA, $7,500 for marketing and program management, and $7,000 for monitoring and performance analysis.
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows ($65,780), North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (up to $46,000 through Placer County Transient Occupancy Tax funds) and Homewood ($2,250) will fund the 2013-14 program.
TOT is a charge added to the cost of a room — motel, hotel, condominium — paid by visitors to the area who stay fewer than 30 days.
“We saw through the ridership (last winter) that there is a demonstrated unmet need for service to lodging properties, especially on the North and West shores,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president for Squaw, explaining one of the reasons the resort is investing in the program for a second year.
During the shuttle’s 44 days of operation last winter, 3,206 passengers rode the five-bus fleet, averaging 73 riders a day between Dec. 24, 2012, and March 31, 2013. The most popular route last winter was Incline to Squaw, carrying 2,445 passengers, or 76 percent of total ridership.
A common explanation for last winter’s low ridership was a late start in marketing the pilot program.
Marketing this season has already begun in an effort to increase knowledge of the service and ridership, Wright said.
Routes for 2013-14 are still being finalized; visit www.laketahoetransit.com for information.