Grand ‘Linking Tahoe’ transit plan may not be as simple as it sounds
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Picture this: It’s the year 2020, and you’re getting ready to head from your home in Truckee to your job in Tahoe City.
But instead of cruising south on Highway 89 in your Subaru for 30 minutes, you can ride your bike down the street to a nearby bus stop. Upon arrival, you’ll able to use your phone to check when the next bus is expected — and since they’ll be scheduled to arrive every 30 minutes, you won’t have to wait long. The best part? You don’t even have to pay.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s 2017 Draft Transportation Plan proposes myriad solutions to make transit more appealing to riders on both sides of the state line at Lake Tahoe, including free fare, increased frequency of rides, a commuter ferry across the lake and improved technology to make trip planning easier.
But how much will it all cost?
An earlier attempt of a water taxi across the lake folded in 2010 due to a lack of ticket sales, among other issues, but a second attempt at its implementation into the local transit system was recently made possible through a federal grant.
But the project still has a long way to go before becoming a reality, because only $1.6 million of the estimated $40 million cost has so far been funded, according to TRPA’s project tracker website.
In a recent interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Tahoe Transportation District Manager Carl Hasty said improving transit service to the ferry stops on the lake’s north and south shores would also be key in ensuring the project’s success.
COSTLY TO IMPLEMENT FREE FARES
However, in order to realize the long-term goal of making TTD transit service free to riders, the estimated annual cost is about $742,011 according to the project tracker website, none of which is listed as funded.
A similar plan to make Tahoe-Truckee Area Regional Transit (TART) buses free to the user is expected to cost $750,000 annually, and currently has no funding sources secured, according to the project tracker website.
Meanwhile, plans to increase the frequency of bus arrivals from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes on the south shore, as well as adding more stops, are also expected to be rather costly, with the bill for short-term improvements estimated at around $12 million annually, according to the project tracker website.
A similar plan to increase TART services between North Tahoe to Truckee is expected to cost $981,100 annually, according to the project tracker. The service between North Tahoe and Truckee only runs 11 times daily currently, and the plan would increase the frequency of trips to every 30 minutes and expand evening and off-season service.
Transit improvements, to an extent, are required by law to ensure the region is reducing things like greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. Historically, revenue for transit improvements has come from sources like the gas tax, which has declined as more fuel-efficient vehicles have entered the market.
A number of counties have adopted sales tax increases to make up for the lost transit infrastructure funding, but Placer County’s recent attempt at doing this failed last November when voters rejected Measure M.
CUTS TO TART SERVICE MADE THIS WEEK
But there’s another underlying problem that needs to be addressed if Lake Tahoe is going to have regular bus service for residents and the workforce: recruiting and maintaining seasonal drivers.
In a press release issued Monday, Placer County announced that TART service is being scaled back for the remaining three weeks of the current operating season because of staffing shortages.
“It’s not at all uncommon for us to call off service before the season ends, but the issue of shortage of bus drivers is actually quite an issue for the industry right now,” Placer County Transit Manager Will Garner told the Sierra Sun this week. “When you add on to that the problem of getting steady seasonal employees, you know, we already started the season with a thin roster.”
Garner said that year-round staffing is no problem, but it’s been challenging finding seasonal candidates that TART needs to meet the service requirements of the busy winter and summer seasons.
“I think the part that’s unique to the Tahoe region is an overall lack of a labor pool for any large job,” he said. “My guess is if you ask any employer here what their biggest challenge is, they’ll say it’s finding seasonal staff.”
The service times that TART will no longer offer in the following three weeks are the 7:30 a.m. route from Crystal Bay to Tahoe City, the 8 a.m. route from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley, the 5:35 p.m. route from Squaw Valley to Tahoe City and the 6 p.m. route from Tahoe City to Crystal Bay.
Garner said these routes and times were chosen to cut because of low ridership, and that no additional cutbacks are expected in the coming weeks.