Lake Lapper may be cut a stroke
A temporary grant supplied to Tahoe’s Lake Lapper will expire in December, threatening the lakewide bus service and sending transit providers sniffing for alternative funding sources.
The only means of public transportation looping the lake, the Lapper will lose a critical California Department of Transportation grant. The $194,500 provision, half of which was matched by rental car mitigation fees, was deemed a demonstration project. The chances are considered slim that the grant will be renewed.
The capital was intended as a building block for new programs but harvesting solid ridership figures and interest in less than two years from its genesis is a hefty feat.
The Tahoe Transportation District, the agency which oversees Lake Lapper, will meet on Friday at Valhalla’s Boathouse Theater at 10 a.m. to review the Lapper program.
With the deadline looming, TTD Executive Director Richard Hill is racing against the clock to find approximately $125,000, half of the Lapper’s operating costs, or service will be trimmed dramatically. As of July 15, the buses make 29 stops around the lake, five more than previously scheduled.
“It’s inevitable we’ll have to reduce service if we don’t receive local or state commitments,” Hill said. “We have to provide frequent service to attract more passengers.”
Help may be on the way.
The counties that are home to the luxury coach service – Placer, Washoe, El Dorado and Douglas – can contribute mitigation fees, such as air quality, to transit agencies. Although the funds, which could range from $15,000 to $45,000 by each jurisdiction, aren’t guaranteed from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, TTD will likely be allocated a sliver. The agency’s board of directors must present a funding formula to the counties before the December cutoff date in order to receive funds.
“Any program that gives people an option not to use their cars can qualify for funding,” said Romany Woodbeck, a planner for Washoe County. She said that $31,000 is earmarked for the Lake Lapper but TRPA hasn’t released the money to the county. “There is a clear benefit to use a bus rather than automobiles.”
The Lake Lapper made its debut last June when Frontier Tours, a Carson City-based company, decided to try its hand in the public transportation field. The two-year trial project operates from 7 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. on weekdays and costs adult riders a flat $5 fare.
Not entirely in dire straits, the Lake Lapper has won the support of tourists and residents, Hill said. Ridership goals have been successfully achieved in the first year. The daily average of 57 passengers since last June is more than the projected 50 and, during the peak summer operations, those numbers have boosted to 100 per day.
To attract more riders, however, Lapper officials must cut into the three-hour lag time at bus stops. The two buses follow opposite routes around the lake and connect the North and South shores with an oval path.
Doubling the frequency of all the transit operations in the Tahoe Basin can significantly reduce “headways.” Instead of waiting for a TART bus in Kings Beach for an hour, a passenger would stand for 30 minutes. On the South Shore, STAGE would run every 15 minutes instead of the current half-hour delay. Incorporating that concept is estimated at $4.9 million, an idea, said Hill, the agencies can’t afford.
Kevin Cole, TTD board chairman, said an invaluable resource like the Lake Lapper hasn’t been given ample time to reach the majority of the public.
“With the Lapper you can get anywhere in the basin without a car,” he said. “I don’t know if the system has made a measurable impact yet, but it needs to be given more of a chance.”
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