Even with decreased funding, buses have never been busier
Despite the loss of $100,000 in grant revenues last year, the operator of two South Shore transit lines reports record daily ridership in 1997.
Area Transit Management posted an average of 34.5 passengers per hour on its South Tahoe Area Ground Express (STAGE) bus system in the first half of this year. In March, the number peaked at 36 passengers per hour, an all-time high in the company’s 12-year history.
The agency’s other program, Bus Plus, recorded strong figures as well, averaging nearly five passengers an hour. The best month for Bus Plus was January with six riders, another record.
ATM General Manager Ken Daley said STAGE normally has an average of 25 to 30 riders. He added that STAGE is “maxed out” in providing service and unless the agency recovers last year’s losses, the schedule will remain the same.
“It’s been a good year for us,” he said. “The only way we are going to get better is to have more funding.”
The total STAGE ridership for 1997 through July is 301,076. Bus Plus has tallied 51,198 passengers this year.
STAGE’s four buses, which cover three routes in South Lake Tahoe, are the remnants for the agency after the 1996 cutback. The buses were running with 15-minute gaps but the changes have delayed “headways” 20 to 30 minutes. Although there has been a reduction in service, ATM has maintained a balance between the two systems. Daley indicated that more of their rider base has shifted to Bus Plus.
ATM must rely on state grants and farebox receipts to cover most of its costs. Tahoe’s transit agencies rely on funding based on resident population even though tourism adds to demand. Pertaining to ATM, population estimates hover around 22,000.
Daley said there is a collective push by local agencies to bring state legislators a comprehensive funding plan. There have been several meetings addressing the constraints. Based on these meetings, the local group intends to submit its plan to the state by the end of the year, Daley said.
“Getting long-term funds is the kicker,” he added. “The secret in the transit industry is consistency. There are so many hands in the pies, by the time the smaller agencies like us get funding, there isn’t much left.”
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