Growing pains for Tahoe’s transportation |

Growing pains for Tahoe’s transportation

Greg Risling

Transportation in the Tahoe Basin is experiencing some adolescent growing pains.

The agency responsible for administering transit operations is dealing with puberty; a summer trolley system is maturing too quickly and a futuristic, coordinated bus service – a merger of private and public entities – is adored by its new parents.

However, like any family, there are bound to be some arguments.

Many people support buses and shuttles and shun the automobile, but there are not sufficient subsidies to sustain a multitude of mass transit options.

The ultimate environmental goal in the basin is three-fold: 1) reduce traffic on the main thoroughfares; 2) restore forest health; and, 3) keep the lake’s famed clarity. Transportation is key across the board. Preventing erosion control and air pollution benefits the lake and the surrounding terrain. Getting tourists and residents out of their cars and onto buses or trolleys cuts congestion on U.S. Highway 50.

The major players in Tahoe transit are becoming quick learners by testing new programs on the road. Tahoe has seen the likes of special services catering to tourists such as the scenic-faring trolley; a bus system that takes passengers around the lake; and a shuttle for beachgoers on the East Shore. But the formula for success is different in each case.

The Tahoe Transportation District, the field’s regional policy-making agency, took it on the chin recently by losing the Lake Lapper and still must resolve financial questions for the East Shore Shuttle, a summer weekend system. The dearth of operating dollars combined with competition have left the lake’s transit projects nearly dry.

TTD’s Executive Director Richard Hill exited stage left when the agency’s financial status was deemed dire by board members. He sacrificed his $40,000 salary to salvage some projects. The agency tried twice to raise funding in the 1980s with a sales tax initiative. They both failed.

Now, without an executive director, TTD must trek on. Board members will have to deliberate on the future role of the organization. The board knows well the troubles with finding operating dollars and may opt to oversee the scope of transportation.

Help could be on the way. A coordinated push led by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to reclassify Tahoe as an urban area would free up more than $500,000 for transit planning. The local consensus will have to convince the federal government that Tahoe should be given special status.

The star that is expected to shine is the Coordinated Transit System. Its debut will be in August 1999. Because of its high-tech wizardry, CTS probably will attract regional and national attention. Not only a private-public partnership, CTS will mix on-demand and fixed route service to customers. CTS will employ touch-screen kiosks, a fleet of vans and buses and a transit center open to the public.

Another name will have to be selected for CTS – it’s in use already – but without TTD’s authoritative power the system would cost millions more. Purchasing radio frequencies and other federally-licensed items come with a high price tag.

Building a comprehensive transit system in Tahoe is going to take more time, say officials. More money will be needed for new, sustainable projects in order to accommodate tourists and residents.

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