Andy Wirth’s observation that hardly anyone uses public transportation is an ancient, tragic lament. It is as old as the Trolley and the Night Rider. And that’s old. Mr. Wirth is absolutely right. The buses are empty most of the time, especially in the summer.
Demanding a creative approach and focusing on innovation, as Andy so eloquently encourages us to do, sounds good in theory. When visionaries and inventors come up with a new form of transportation, maybe we’ll be ready for the creative approach.
Meanwhile, the only means of transportation available to us are cars, buses, boats, trains and planes, all of which are in use today. Since the collaborative, regional effort that Andy mentions supports all types of public transportation, one can only conclude that the solution he proposes means more of the same. That is where he goes tragically wrong.
By proposing more buses, we start out with a creativity and innovation malfunction, because it follows as logically as the night follows day, that to conclude we need more buses because nobody rides them, is to admit that it’s not just the buses that are empty.
Remember in Business 101 where it says that no successful businessman in the world ever hit the big time by insisting on selling a product he knows nobody wants to buy?
Andy is also right to say, about our existing transportation system, “This level of ridership is not sustainable and does not represent the true opportunity of getting more people out of their cars.” Based on common sense, that begs a few questions. Why did it take us so long to see the obvious? If it’s not sustainable, why sustain it and fund it, and, what does represent the true opportunity of getting people out of their cars, a court order?
We have been beating our head against the wall for decades, spending, spending, spending, trying to solve the traffic problem, and little has changed. That should tell us something. It tells us that, right or wrong, people are free to use their own cars.
When we talk about getting as many cars as we can off the roads, we are talking about a transportation innovation that has never been seen before in the basin. That must involve a conventional transportation system for more than 4 million visitors and roughly 50,000 locals.
Even at half, or a quarter of that scale, since 4 million visitors are spread out over the year, it would involve thousands of buses, especially if everyone needed a ride at the same time, which they seem to need now since so many cars are on the road simultaneously.
Would thousands of buses improve air quality? Would buses meet everyone’s needs and fit everyone’s schedule? They haven’t yet, so how can we expect them to in the future?
The reality of the situation is that people prefer to use their own cars. Wishing they could get out of their cars to enjoy the mountains and lake more, won’t change that.
Influential people and government entities try to impose their will on people across the country in a wide variety of ways, under the banner of protecting us and the environment.
For example, the antique fire truck is no longer allowed in Truckee’s Independence Day parade. It was the main attraction of parades for decades, especially for the children. Everyone wants to see the old fire truck back, but, apparently, that kind of freedom and fun must cease and desist. A cultural icon has been destroyed.
If businessmen and women are as committed to protecting the Tahoe Basin as they say they are, they will propose no new development, and withdraw all existing proposals. That is the only thing they have control over.
They can also temper their ambition with common sense and realism, and leave other people alone to live life, enjoy liberty and pursue happiness in their own cars.
When alternative energy vehicles become feasible, affordable and in demand, priorities might change.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.