Re-vamped Apple Hill shuttle gets a test drive | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Re-vamped Apple Hill shuttle gets a test drive

Mackenzie Myers | Mountain Democrat

One of four Apple Hill shuttles makes a pit stop at Boa Vista Orchards. Along with Boa Vista, the bus will stop at 11 other sites along a one-way route on Carson Road to help reduce vehicle traffic during peak season.

Ahead of its debut next month, the Apple Hill shuttle went for a test run Monday, with media and members of involved agencies on board.

The free shuttle will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during Saturdays and Sundays in October, peak season for Apple Hill visits. El Dorado Transit will provide four buses, each accommodating up to 45 riders and swinging by each stop every 15 minutes.

To allow clear passage for the shuttles, the westbound lane of Carson Road between Lower Carson Road and Union Ridge Road will be shut down during operation. California Highway Patrol will be out controlling and directing traffic.

Riders using the shuttle can park in the lot at 2796 Larsen Drive in Camino, which the county is contracting from Sierra Pacific Industries during the month of October, according to El Dorado County Transportation Director Rafael Martinez. To reach the parking lot from U.S. 50, motorists should turn on to Carson Road at exit 54, drive east on Carson Road and turn north on Larsen Drive. The entrance to the parking lot will be on the left-hand side, down a gravel road.

Martinez said the parking lot can accommodate about 400 vehicles while El Dorado Transit Director Mindy Jackson estimated about 300.

"It's our first year so we don't really know," Jackson said.

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According to Martinez, crews will be out this coming weekend to chalk in parking spots. He also said transit employees will be out directing traffic and showing visitors where to park.

As to whether the county has a plan in place for mitigating traffic in and out of the parking lot, Martinez said CHP will also control traffic on Carson Road and Larsen Drive, stopping traffic if it needs to be stopped.

"Considering it was 45 minutes into a ranch and 45 minutes out of a ranch before, any congestion we have now will be minimal (by comparison)," Martinez said.

The route has 12 stops: High Hill Ranch/Fudge Factory Farm, Rucksack Cellars, Boa Vista Orchards, Lewis Grace Winery, Goldbud Farms, Abel's Apple Acres, Lava Cap Winery, El Dorado Orchards, Delfino Farms, Apple Pantry Farm/North Canyon Cider Company and Rainbow Orchards, with Larsen Apple Barn added to the mix on Sundays only. Each stop will have signs designating it as such, according to county spokeswoman Carla Hass.

Stops were evaluated and selected based on safety, Jackson said. Hass added that the individual farms are responsible for ensuring pedestrians have safe passage to the bus stops.

The fleet of buses being used as shuttles are two years old, are wheelchair-accessible and permit service animals, but no pets are allowed on board.

Though drivers have to focus more on the road now, Jackson said when the original shuttle program ran several years ago, drivers would do talks along the route, pointing out historical sites and other areas of interest to passengers. Jackson, who's worked with El Dorado Transit for 24 years, said the shuttle program had a successful run of about 15 years before it ran into trouble. Back in 2012, she said, traffic became too much for the shuttle to handle under the program's configuration at the time. In an effort to alleviate traffic, the buses ended up stuck within it, delaying passengers and motorists alike.

Now, with the new design, Jackson is looking forward to getting started with the program. She recalled encountering all sorts of different passengers on previous shuttles, from Australian and Japanese tourists to local kids heading to work at ranches.

"We're excited to have the opportunity to try the shuttle again," she said.