Panel: Big future for Lake Tahoe transit, needs funding
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Dreams of an integrated, seamless transit system in the Lake Tahoe Basin are still on the drawing board, but the green vision lacks cash to completely fuel it.
That was one takeaway from a Wednesday, Nov. 18, panel discussion on the future of transit on Lake Tahoe’s North and South Shore. Panelists included George Fink from Tahoe Transportation District, Heavenly Mountain Resort base operations director Tom Fortune, Jaime Wright with Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association and Sandy Evans-Hall from North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
All four local experts highlighted current goals and challenges occurring with the transit system, including a rise in summer tourism.
“I think that we can all agree anecdotally that we’ve had a lot more tourists this last summer than in previous years, and that presents some unique challenges for us,” Fink said.
Fink also said South Shore transit goals would eventually include adding service to Meyers and into local neighborhoods, as well as improving bus frequencies. BlueGo Bus Company, which serves South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, currently operates on an hourly schedule.
Fortune, from Heavenly, said the resort already provides free shuttle service on six routes for its employees and skiers during winter operations.
He added that others can ride the shuttle for free. One example is the route along Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe.
“We pick up people who live along there who go to Raley’s for grocery shopping,” Fortune said.
In the future, Heavenly will consider using the 1,200 parking spots at the resort’s California Lodge as a free park-and-ride during the summer season. Shuttles would take visitors to the gondola at Heavenly Village, transporting them to the resort’s rope courses and other summer facilities.
North Tahoe accomplished a seamless ridership to some extent between Truckee and the North Shore, according to Evans-Hall and Wright. Truckee and North Tahoe transit services recently combined resources, calling itself Truckee Tahoe Area Regional Transit.
A grant from Tahoe-Truckee Airport District will provide year-round service on Highway 267 between Truckee and Kings Beach for three years.
North Tahoe agencies are also working on the Resort Triangle Transit Vision, a plan that would eliminate fees, increase service frequency to 30-minute rides, and add year-round evening service between Truckee, the North Shore and West Shore.
“We would essentially double our ridership if we did that,” said Evans-Hall, noting it would boost ridership from 400,000 people a year to nearly a million.
According to Fink, one of the top future priorities includes a basin-wide transit service.
“Tahoe Transportation District is working with its North Shore partners to establish a year-round transit system that is seamless to the rider,” Fink said.
He added that this could be accomplished without creating a massive transit entity.
Joanne Marchetta, executive director of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, noted that there would be some challenges in accomplishing that goal, especially when there are multiple agencies involved.
Some people saw a lack of public parking as a disadvantage, including South Lake Tahoe councilman Austin Sass. Sass sits on Tahoe Transportation District’s board.
“We are in a parking deficit,” Sass said. “The best way to get people out of cars is to have more parking.”
FUNDING FUTURE GOALS
For some initiatives, like increasing service around the Lake Tahoe Basin, a lack of money remains a very real obstacle.
Implementing the Resort Triangle Transit Vision in Truckee and North Tahoe, for example, would cost $7.2 million a year. The North Shore transit service currently operates on a $4.5 million budget.
However, Evans-Hall said consultants are optimistic that the program would pay for itself in the first year. The goal is to implement the plan within five years.
She added that Lake Tahoe Basin agencies should stop looking at public transportation in a conventional way, especially if it wants to accomplish goals similar to Park City, Utah, or Vail, Colorado.
“As a resort community, you have to start thinking of transportation as an amenity,” Evans-Hall said. “A fare system can be a barrier to transit use, especially for visitors.”
She explained that places like Park City pay for free transit with various taxes and fees.
Placer County may consider placing a sales- or bed-tax increase on the ballot in 2016.
Fink said that while it appears that the federal government will approve a six-year transportation bill soon, it won’t provide all the necessary funding for future goals.
“We have to realize that funding for the goals we want to do won’t come from the federal government, but from locals,” he said.