Microtransit shuttle with free on-demand rides launched in South Lake Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Summer is in full swing in the Tahoe Basin, and warmer days aren’t the only thing back — so are the crowds. Every summer, Lake Tahoe welcomes tourism with open arms for all to enjoy its majestic views and alpine waters; but the ongoing issue with increased crowds is that traffic is often gridlocked.
In efforts to solve this ongoing issue, Lake Link is a new, microtransit service, offering free, on-demand rides to both locals and visitors. The new rideshare-style service will pick up riders in highly congested areas between South Lake Tahoe and Stateline.
“With this program, we wanted to make sure we hit the community’s high priorities,” said Lake Link Program Manager Raymond Suarez. “The first issue we want to address with Lake Link is reducing single-occupancy vehicle miles traveled.”
In efforts to reach the program’s designated objective, the city of South Lake Tahoe hired Suarez to effectively launch and achieve the goals set for the new micro-transit program, while also adding value to the South Lake Tahoe community.
“We have made sure that whatever is delivered to South Lake Tahoe is also adding more value to the stakeholders,” Suarez said. “To do that, we ensured whatever solution was deployed would be more accessible to the community.”
Along with the South Shore Transportation Management Association, Lake Link’s primary stakeholders include the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the city of South Lake Tahoe, who are both actively involved in the growth of the program and believe it will help to both mitigate traffic and traffic pollution.
Gavin Feiger, the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s senior land use policy analyst, further elaborates on how detrimental consistent traffic is, specifically to the Tahoe environment.
“Endless traffic crushes Tahoe’s roads into fine dust and debris that flow into the lake, damaging its water clarity,” Feiger said. “Tailpipe emissions fuel climate change, which exacerbates all the environmental challenges facing Tahoe. As part of our mission to combat transportation-related pollution, we focus on reducing reliance on the private car by creating data-based, lake-friendly transportation alternatives.”
Lake Link isn’t the first micro-transit program that the League to Save Lake Tahoe has been involved with bringing to the community. The nonprofit also financially supported and promoted the TART Connect, North Shore’s microtransit service. With previous experience in bringing micro-transit to Tahoe communities, the League brought their expertise to the new program.
“To bring Lake Link to fruition, we worked through the South Shore Transportation Management Association, with two of our staff sitting on the association’s board, to recruit funding from numerous private partners, secure government approvals, and we made a significant financial contribution to support the service,” Feiger said. “We’re happy that Lake Link is up and running through a large collaborative, community effort.”
As the Lake Link program manager, Suarez has, and continues, to help in facilitating and coordinating various moving parts of the new microtransit system, making sure it runs smoothly and effectively.
While the goal is to keep Lake Link a free service, it must make sense with the expansions they intend to make in the future. Suarez elaborates, by urging the local community to start thinking about transit in a different way, which could promote the longevity of the program remaining free to its riders.
“More communities should consider transit like a public utility,” Suarez said. “If we talk about the value to communities in the same context as you think about necessities such as water and electricity, the expectation is when you live in the community, those resources are there. More progressive transit authorities are thinking about that value to the community, and there’s a tectonic shift in my opinion of the value we get from transit; and value isn’t always necessarily measured on the number of riders or the cost, but rather based on how well does the service work for our community.”
While Lake Link is opening to the public in the mid-summer 2022 season, Suarez mentions that they are opening ahead of schedule to proactively mitigate the expected traffic that the new, upcoming Tahoe South Events Center in Stateline will bring.
“We’re getting ahead of it by launching now, but ultimately [Lake Link] was very encouraged because this is such a pristine environment and locals are so passionate and tied into South Lake Tahoe,” Suarez said. “We wanted to make sure that whatever transit/mobility solutions we deploy, that we are still adding to the fabric of the community.”
After the initial download of the Lake Link app, riders are asked to register and make an account. Once the information is inputted, riders can add a specific address on where to be picked up that is in the current service area or click on a commonplace already listed on the app. Currently, there are two bus stops, two grocery stores, four beaches, and over 50 hotels that are offering pick-up and drop-off services by Lake Link in the service area.
Lake Link currently has four vehicles servicing the area between Al Tahoe and Stateline neighborhoods, 365 days a year, and looking forward, Suarez is optimistic of the growth of the program.
“We recognize that this is just the start,” Suarez said. “This is our first pilot program, and we really want to see and are working on seeing this expand throughout South Lake Tahoe to give access to everyone in the community. We’re already talking about a five-year operating plan, how we intend to add more vehicles to the service area, extension of operating hours, but of course we need the financing to go with that to bring all of that into play.”
Looking ahead, Lake Link is continually adapting to offer a sustainable option for transit that will not only benefit the South Lake Tahoe community, but also benefit the environment.
“The South Lake Tahoe community is so environmentally conscious that a lot of progressive ideas can be deployed here,” Suarez said. “Our board has a joint interest in working with the city to electrify the fleet so it’s emissions-free. We also have a valued interest in partnering with the Tahoe Transportation District so that we’re integrating all these services so that the fixed-route service and micro-transit service cohesively work together.”
The micro-transit program is open for the public to ride starting Friday, July 22, and will be open from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. everyday.
For more information on Lake Link, visit: https://ss-tma.org/.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe, among other Lake Link partners, urges the community to take advantage of the new program.
“Take Lake Link, try out Tahoe Transportation District’s buses, ride your bike, walk, and tell your friends to do the same,” Feiger said. “The more the service is used, the more likely it will grow.”
Madison Schultz can be reached at email@example.com.
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