Leaving cars behind a more reasonable option | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Leaving cars behind a more reasonable option

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribuneNick Haven, a transportation planner, shows off a kiosk recently installed at LTCC.

After seven years of planning, a state-of-the-art software system will make it easier for people to catch a ride on public transit on the South Shore.

Visitors and residents can now use 13 telephones and two computer terminal kiosks to chart fixed route bus schedules and find out the most current road and weather conditions.

As the system is installed through the spring and early summer, people will be able to book rides on public transit from locations throughout South Shore.

The phone and kiosks are part of a transit system that links vehicles owned by public and private groups and will make it easier for people to get where they need to go without using a car. The intended effect is to decrease dependency on private automobiles and the emissions they produce.

“There is going to be a network of kiosks and phones that allow users to book a ride,” said Nick Haven, a transportation expert at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “They can also be used to check transit schedules, check real-time weather and road conditions and access a Tahoe Guide that provides information on restaurants and other activities.”

The system, tentatively being called Tahoe Coordinated Area Transit, will link casino shuttles, Heavenly buses, STAGE buses, trolleys and Bus Plus vans to a central dispatch system. It is expected to increase the efficiency of public transit at South Shore and in turn attract more riders than the 1.2 million people annually who are estimated to use public transit.

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The required software is installed on the 37 vehicles that will be part of the system. In total, the software costs $3.6 million and is being funded by federal, state and local government agencies.

“It’s been a long time in coming and there is still a long way to go,” said Mike Bradford, president of the management company that is overseeing implementation of the system.

“I don’t want anybody to believe this project is going to go without any complications,” said Bradford, also president and owner of the Lakeside Inn & Casino. “We’re looking to build a transportation system to support Lake Tahoe for years to come.”

The system is being rolled out in phases. The first phase, completed last week, included the installation of a kiosk at Lake Tahoe Community College and the lodge at Camp Richardson. Phones have been put in at various lodging properties at South Shore.

By April 30, 20 more kiosks and 20 additional phones are expected to be in place. Contractors aim to have the entire infrastructure ready by the end of June.

A key component of the transit system will be the Stateline Transit Center located next to the Heavenly Gondola. The two-story, 5,800-square-foot building could open next month, said Ken Daley, president of Area Transit Management, which will operate the central dispatch for the entire transit system from its headquarters on Shop Street.

Daley said he is hiring staff for the Stateline Transit Center, hooking up phones and figuring out how the space in the building will be used. As for the impact of software already in place, Daley said it would be premature to report anything.

“It’s still too early to tell any kind of effect,” Daley said. “We haven’t used anything but GPS, which tracks the vehicles and is a small portion of the overall system.”

Juan Palma, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, says the coordinated transit system is meant to compensate for, in part, many building projects at South Shore, such as the redevelopment at Stateline.

“I really believe the system will increase ridership over time,” Palma said. “With the management company, seeing those kind of players beginning to participate, the top manager of the casinos and Heavenly, we cannot not be successful.”

Bradford said the system will benefit the environment and the economy. It also aims to tackle the biggest criticism voiced by people who visit here — traffic.

“We’re trying to eliminate that criticism,” Bradford said. “We want to get people out of cars. What we want is for people to drive here or fly here and when they arrive to park their car and not use it until they go back to the airport or drive out of the basin. That’s our objective.”

The official name of the coordinated transit system has not been decided, but it will not be TCAT as originally announced. A final decision on a name and how it will be marketed should be made next month, Bradford said.

Phones in place right now are marked with a temporary decal that reads Tahoe Transit Link.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com