Lake Tahoe’s transportation issues at forefront of public meeting
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Public transportation remains a hot topic in cities across the U.S. — and it’s no different in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
It was the issue discussed Wednesday, Oct. 21, at the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Tahoe Talks Brown Bag Lunch Series presentation.
The monthly community discussion panel includes a variety of topics with presenters from area agencies. Wednesday’s panel focused on issues connecting public transit with area trail access and recreation opportunities — the challenges involved, recent accomplishments and potential future opportunities.
Representatives from the Tahoe Transportation District, U.S. Forest Service and Tahoe Rim Trail Association were in attendance, along with members of the community, South Lake Tahoe City Council and Lake Tahoe Community College.
George Fink, Tahoe Transportation District’s transit system program manager, opened the discussion with challenges facing his organization, primarily funding and the realities of cross-county and cross-state logistics.
“It’s really ridiculous,” he said, describing the interactions and approval processes needed between numerous state, county and federal organizations which he collectively described as “fiefdoms.”
As for funding on the state and local level, Fink added, “We’re 50,000 people. It’s a tough sell,” suggesting that not enough consideration has been given to the volume of tourism traffic during peak season.
“You’re talking about 100,000 people in a summer month,” he said.
Regarding solutions, members of the panel suggested that public transportation limitations leave an opportunity for more private businesses, like shuttle services, to fill the void.
South Lake Tahoe City Council member Austin Sass — who was in attendance, but not presenting — also voiced his opinion on transit expansion.
“Really at the end of the day it comes down to funding,” he said, explaining a potential for increased local visitor tax revenue to go to public transit. “The power to do these things is in the hands of the voters.”
Sass suggested that a recreational activities tax, gas tax or transit occupancy tax could potentially be future ballot initiatives.
Similar programs are already in place in other mountain destinations. In Breckenridge, Colo., local tax revenue helps make its extensive public transit free to residents and visitors alike.
When asked after the meeting, Fink said free public transit in the Tahoe area wouldn’t be out of the question.
“It’s not that far of a stretch to get there,” he said.
According to Fink, current revenue from bus tickets and passes is not a significant source of the department’s income when compared with state and federal funding. More funding from local government and private investors would be needed.
Community members in attendance expressed an interest in expanded shuttle service to Emerald Bay and north-to-south Lake Tahoe transportation options to alleviate highway congestion, along with a solution to bike transportation limitations.
Fink said bike transportation issues are being explored, including bike trailers for smaller buses and revision to policy to allow bikes within the buses. Currently buses are only capable of carrying two bikes at a time on exterior bike racks due to vehicle regulations. Fink expressed concern for liability issues regarding having bikes inside the bus, as well as the space they would occupy.
As part of Wednesday’s panel, Tahoe Rim Trail Association executive director Mary Bennington discussed recent bus stops added near trail access points.
“I’m thrilled with improvements so far,” she told the Tribune after the discussion. “I think we still have a long way to go.”
The transit district recently added stops in both directions on U.S. Highway 50 at Spooner Summit where the Tahoe Rim Trail intersects.
Public transit now has six stops near key trail access points at North and South Lake Tahoe. The desire for continued expansion was in part based on a study commissioned by the trail association that showed that 86 percent of trail users accessed the trail by car.
One third of respondents said that transit to and from the trailhead would be useful and 59 percent would consider using it.