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Transit at your fingertips

Greg Risling

Impatience is customary when traveling and often elicits the desperate cry, “Are we there yet?”

Hoping to ease the frustration for South Shore visitors, local transportation officials are banking on a timely, satellite-directed transit system.

The Coordinated Transit System was featured last weekend at the last of three Cabinet-level workshops held before the president and vice president come to town. The high-tech wizardry, revolutionary in the field, is eagerly anticipated at Tahoe and is turning the heads of those in the nation’s capital.

Funding for the project has been secured. Approximately $1.1 million has been set aside from traffic mitigation funds doled out by the South Tahoe Public Utility District and Heavenly Ski Resort for expansion plans and from two redevelopment projects in South Lake Tahoe.

The federal government will chip in $2.52 million thanks to the lobbying of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Transit Administration by area legislators.

Consolidation of public and private transit agencies has been on the minds of transportation experts for years. Rather than continue the mix of separate entities, the concept of combining them into one organization seems economically and logistically feasible.

“This will take people exactly where they want to go,” said Area Transit Management general manager Ken Daly. “We are trying to give people a simple system to follow.”

The system will dispatch 45 to 55 buses and shuttles, which will run fixed and demand-response routes on the South Shore. Having an equal say in the system’s formation are El Dorado County, city of South Lake Tahoe, three casinos, Heavenly and ATM.

The stakeholder groups have met off and on this year and are close to concluding their meetings. According to Dick Powers, executive director of the South Shore Transit Management Association, the remaining issue is operating costs.

“We have to talk about resolutions next week,” said Powers. “I’d say it will be another 60 to 75 days before we wrap things up. It’s hard to get everyone together.”

From there, vendor selection will occur. Powers estimates CTS will hit the ground motoring next fall.

Using precision as a key tool, CTS will carve new routes avoiding heavy traffic and, more importantly, picking up passengers on time. Broken into five zones, buses will be equipped with a transponder that will beam a signal to satellites. The signal will be re-transmitted to a dispatch center – a miniature “Mission Control” as Powers puts it – where each vehicle will be shown on a monitor map at that very moment. Red dots crawl across the map and a dispatcher will select the nearest bus headed in the requested direction.

Kiosks will be installed at high-impact areas. With the touch of a button or pickup of a dedicated phone line, visitors can be given specific information on the vehicle’s arrival.

“The computer will list how many people are on board, the longest duration of a passenger and where it’s going,” said Powers. “A passenger won’t be on board longer than 15 minutes.”

Cost to the customer: a $3 base fare. Travel beyond zones that don’t border one another (i.e., Meyers to Zephyr Cove) would be $5.

The plan’s progress comes at a time when transit ridership is at an all-time high. More than 1.5 million people used a form of transit besides their automobile at Tahoe last year. Experts predict another 600,000 passengers in the next two years.

A successful computer-based system could have significant impact in the transportation world. If successful, other cities across the nation may follow Tahoe’s lead.

“CTS will have the most up-to-date and accurate information,” said transportation consultant Gordon Shaw. “And that’s what makes an efficient transportation model.”


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