Buses moving in right direction | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Buses moving in right direction

Kathryn Reed, Tribune managing editor

STATELINE – Americans have had a love affair with their cars since they started rolling off assembly lines early last century.

Be it tourist or local, people don’t want to leave the driving to others. Moving people around town who want to move themselves can be a transportation nightmare. It is Ken Daley’s reality.

Daley heads up Area Transit Management, the company which incorporated in 1985 and took over the Stage buses. He spoke about the evolution of transit on the South Shore earlier this month during Leadership Lake Tahoe’s final session.

“We are attempting or enticing people to use public transit in an environment that is not transit friendly,” Daley said. “People don’t come here to be put on a bus and moved around.”

Even so, it is tourists who fill most of the seats. They account for 80 percent of the 1.36 million passengers in 2002, according to Daley. Last year 800,000 people road buses on the fixed routes, 450,000 used the casino shuttles and 110,000 used the call-on-demand buses.

“People say we don’t carry passengers. If that was true, we wouldn’t have 60 buses on the road,” Daley said.

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He boasts about the total number of rides being more than other U.S. cities with a population of 50,000.

BlueGo, the new name for all the buses that now use a technologically progressive global positioning system to track the vehicles, has come under fire. The multimillion-dollar project was launched earlier this fall only to have the 26 kiosks pulled offline because they turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. The menus tripped people up. The phone system is working with a live body on the other end of the line.

Kiosks are expected to be revamped and ready for use sometime between Martin Luther King and Presidents Day weekends.

Because of the change, Daley anticipates total ridership to decrease for 2003-04, with a rebound in 2004-05. He forecasts topping the 1.36 million ridership mark by 2005-06.

There has been a $7.6 million capital investment in BlueGo thus far, according to Daley. The vehicles have cost $4 million. Money has come from the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Transportation Administration and local matching funds.

The operating budget is $3.1 million this year. Through private and public partners about $2.2 million is collected, with another $900,000 from fare boxes.

There has been talk of free bus service, but before that can happen there needs to be a way to make up the nearly $1 million generated by riders. The other caveat is that some of the state money for local transportation comes with the condition that buses are not free.

Daley expects in about a decade the entire fleet will be converted to compressed natural gas. Some are already operating with the alternative fuel. It was just this fall that a permanent fueling station opened at Lake Tahoe Airport.

The transit center at the Marriott complex has opened, though there is no money to pay anyone to work there. Daley would not disclose who might join a partnership to create a welcome center there.

An added expense for the bus company from the newest transit center is the $40,000-$50,000 it will cost a year in utilities – the bulk being from the snow-melting devices, Daley said.

– Kathryn Reed may be reached at kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.