Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bus service on Tahoe's South Shore

unedited May Tahoe Mt. News

By Kathryn Reed

It took a part-time transportation guru less than a couple weeks to come up with a 26-slide PowerPoint presentation outlining the inefficiencies of BlueGo.
With John Andoh’s help, members of the transportation board brainstormed for five hours to figure out what can be done to reduce the duplication in services, how to share vehicles, get more riders and increase revenue.
No decisions were made, but a lot of eyes were opened. A time line was presented that is designed to get the board to stop spinning its wheels and move forward. Yes, the public will be involved -- possibly by this fall.
Andoh’s efforts so impressed the board of directors that he has since been hired as the first administrator for the Coordinated Transit System Management Company.

BlueGo issues

One stumbling block is BlueGo is comprised of seven service contracts -- six with Area Transit Management and one with El Camino Trailways. Contract holders are Heavenly, the casinos, Douglas County, El Dorado County, South Lake Tahoe, the trolley and Kingsbury Express. The governing boards of those entities need to be in agreement before the BlueGo board can make any real decisions.
“Our goal is to understand each other. We need to understand that the transportation market has changed,” said Stacy Dingman, board chairwoman and Lakeside Inn employee. “We need to make sure we are serving everyone’s interests.”
Heavenly moves its customers to and from the mountain as expeditiously as possible. This is free to riders because transportation costs are built into lift ticket prices.
Casinos want door-to-door service – not dropping patrons off at the transit center and having them walk to the tables.
The city wants neighborhoods served because the farther people have to walk to a bus stop the less likely they are to use public transit.
Andoh’s documents said, “Heavenly historically has been the most productive BlueGo service, followed by the city of South Lake Tahoe fixed routes. Casino service has drastically dropped in productivity and ridership over the past four years.”
Gabe Chavarin with Area Transit Management said, “Maybe one of the things we need is a (Highway) 50 express route.”
Andoh said something like that is “the cheapest alternative to getting light rail.”
During the spring brainstorming session reliability and frequency were common themes. People talked about shelters at all stops, stops on both sides of the streets, destination signs, ski racks on all buses, and having fares be consistent system-wide.
Making sure the fleet is appropriate was mentioned. Right now of the 43 buses that are active, some are as old as 17 years and as new as this year.

Looking forward

By consolidating all the funding sources, Andoh said about $4.18 million is going to be spent this fiscal year.
Costs are going up and revenue is declining. Alfred Knotts with El Dorado County said his forecast shows a need to cuts services in four years.
“We may need a ballot measure,” Knotts said of a way to generate money.
Andoh threw out the idea of creating a business improvement district. This was met with grumbles because of the controversial failed bid from a couple years ago.
Another source of revenue could come from parking fees. Last fall the BlueGo boards’ parking subcommittee touted the idea of $5/night for hotel guests, fees at trailheads and beaches, at Heavenly, for public and private employees around town. It is estimated more than $5 million a year could be generated just at lodging establishments.
Mobility 2030 is the name of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s regional transportation plan that encompasses the entire basin.
The March draft report says some South Shore plans are to:
• Expand BlueGo fixed route system and reduce traffic on Highway 50
• Establish new fixed route service to Meyers
• Expand fixed route service to South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods
• Expand BlueGo casino service daytime hours and reduce headways
• Expand service hours to Nevada Flex Route
Regional transportation is still talked about so locals and visitors ditch their SUVs to get to the other side and back without having to paddle.
The report says, “An intraregional transit service, the Summer Lake Lapper Service needs to be resurrected. As recently as August 1997, average ridership totals (117 passenger trips/day) suggest that during the summer months, the Lake Lapper could provide a strong transit connection between the North and South Shores. Lake Lapper service would also address some of the seasonal parking issues along the East Shore and Emerald Bay areas. Based on information contained in the Tahoe Interregional-Intraregional Transit Study (LSC, 2006), the capital and operation requirements for an 82-day Lake Lapper Summer Service (June 15-Labor Day) would require three 32-to-40 passenger buses operating in opposite directions around the Lake with three-hour headways. Anticipated operating costs for the service is estimated at $238,100 with a farebox revenue estimated at $43,800 given a $3 fare for a one-way trip.”
Andoh did say, “Transit cannot be everything to everyone. Tradeoffs must be made.”
BlueGO's Nifty 50 Trolley started the season Memorial Day weekend. The two routes this year are Route C between the South Y Transit Station and Stateline Transit Center and Route D from the South Y via Tahoe Valley Campground to D.L. Bliss State Park. From there riders can board the free Emerald Bay shuttle to Tahoe City.
Schedules are available at t or call (530) 541-7149.

Who is Andoh?

Andoh actually rides the bus system so he has an idea of what is working and what isn’t. It also allows him the opportunity to mingle with people who use the system.
He is “committed to dramatically improve public transportation service in the South Lake Tahoe region,” according to a press release. Andoh is tasked with managing the daily operation of BlueGo, as well as obtaining founding sources and creating a more cohesive public transit system on the South Shore.
In his eight years of transit experience, Andoh has been the assistant transit manager for Elk Grove and part time transit services manager for Benicia. In those capacities he essentially did all the things he is being asked to do here.
“Andoh was successful in rebranding these transit operations, improving mobility and increasing ridership by 25 percent in Benicia and over 55 percent in Elk Grove,” a press release says.
Andoh’s office is at TRPA. He may be reached at (775) 589-5284 or

Funding issues

Funding decisions nearly 3,000 miles away are making transportation officials at the Lake a little uneasy.
A letter obtained by the Tahoe Mountain News written by the Tahoe Transportation District dated April 17, 2008, to Terri Marceron, local Forest Service supervisor, questions why her agency is cutting local transit dollars.
The Forest Service as of press time had cut $8,100 – its annual contribution to the South Shore and North Shore trolleys and membership in the Truckee-North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.
“These funds are used to help market North Shore and Emerald Bay Summer Trolley services, and the transit connection between North and South Shores,” the letter says.
The Forest Service says the money may eventually arrive, but because Congress held up allocations, it could not go forward with previous obligations.
“We are reviewing the budget to see what we have to contribute and then we’ll respond back (to the letter),” said Cheva Heck, local USFS spokeswoman.
The Forest Service funds transit operations throughout the country as benefit to people using its recreation sites.
“If the funding is not available, we would have to look at other sources. It’s not a huge amount. It’s about 3 to 4 percent of the budget,” said Mike Harper, chairman of the Tahoe Transportation District. “But it creates a link around Emerald Bay. The ridership we get magnifies it.”
He said in the last couple of years more people have been using public transit to travel between the South and North shores.

Expanding service?

At the BlueGo’s board meeting on June 6 a public hearing was conducted regarding a proposal to restart the 24-hour curb-to-curb service. Deadlines prevent us from telling you what happened.
The idea is to restore 7pm to 7am service that was cut last year. It would be paid for from funds through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality and Transportation Development Act as well as fares.

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