As Tahoe transportation officials look to improve transit in the basin, they are trying to cater to three distinct users—residents, especially those who are dependent on public bus service; those who want to get to recreation sites and seasonal users; and those getting to Tahoe from outside the area.

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency officials are working on updating the Regional Transportation Plan, which is done every four years. The last one was approved in 2017. It’s a blueprint for the next 25 years. TRPA is hosting five webinars on consecutive Mondays to talk about various aspects of the RTP. On April 27, TRPA planner Kira Smith focused on transit.

Using cell phone and other data, planners know people’s destinations change seasonally. Ski resorts are the big recreation draw in winter, while beaches and marinas are the popular choice in summer. Highway 50 from Placerville to the South Shore is the busiest corridor for regional trips to the basin, accounting for 30 percent of visitors.

Transportation officials are using a layered approach, realizing that if in basin transit doesn’t work well to get people where they want to go, then regional transit would be a disaster. 

The pandemic sped up Tahoe Transportation District’s quest to be free. This will continue at least through 2022. The North Shore’s TART bus service had already stopped collecting fares. TTD is adding seven electric buses to its fleet, with three coming this year. Lake Tahoe Community College now has an overhead charging station for these buses. For those living in Meyers, regular bus service still doesn’t exist. Don’t expect it to return in the near term.

Various transit plans for the future in the greater Lake Tahoe area. (Graphic: TRPA)

One thing people on the call asked for was more bike racks on local buses. Some racks carry three, many only two bikes. TRPA said it was unsafe to extend the bikes longer. Trailers might be option; like what bike shops use to transport gear for customers.

One thing that will be considered in this plan that hasn’t been in previous ones is microtransit. These private businesses operate similar to Uber and Lyft. People can call for a ride for a defined area. This is also known as transit on demand. The vehicle is often an SUV, van or shuttle bus. This was the second year the Squaw Valley area used Mountaineer in this capacity. In the first year, the company provided more than 80,000 rides, according to Smith.

Smith said microtransit service is a condition of the permit for the Stateline event center that was approved this year by TRPA and Douglas County commissioners. It will service riders from the Al Tahoe area of South Lake Tahoe to Round Hill Pines in Nevada.

Short-term goals for the RTP include:

  • Transit that is free for users
  • Electric buses
  • 30-minute service or less on core routes
  • Extended hours
  • Seasonal microtransit
  • Specialized medical transportation.

Long-term goals are:

  • High-frequency core routes
  • Cross-lake ferry
  • Service to recreation sites
  • Local water taxis
  • Year-round microtransit
  • Mobility hubs at key urban centers
  • Regional service to neighboring cities.

“The goal for the 25-year build-out is to keep local routes in the basin free to the user. Some regional routes might not be free,” Smith said.

She added that the biggest hurdle is securing long-term funding sources.

Future topics:

  • Technology: May 4, noon-12:45pm—Learn more about real time travel information, smart streetlights, and how new data is informing transportation planning at Tahoe. Register here.
  • Communities: May 11, noon- 12:45pm—Learn more about how transit, trails, and technology are used to transform Lake Tahoe’s transportation system. Register here.
  • Innovative Transportation: May 18, noon-12:45pm—In a special fifth installment of the series, an expert panel of nonprofit and business representatives will explore ways that innovative thinking, fresh ideas and pilot programs can help advance Tahoe transportation in the immediate future, while ensuring new programs protect the lake environment. Register here.
  • Bike trails was the April 20 topic.

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