Free transit could come to North Lake Tahoe
Free bus rides across North Lake Tahoe could become a reality starting in January.
Placer County plans to temporarily eliminate fares on Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit routes during a two-year pilot program while working to make it a permanent change.
County staff plans to bring a finalized plan back to the board in November or early December in order to begin the program this winter.
“This is a huge service to our community members and workers,” said Supervisor Cindy Gustafson.
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Fare-free bus rides would cost around $240,000 a year. If the program moves forward, up to $500,000 in transient occupancy tax funds would be allocated to fund it.
Over the past five years, TART has averaged $416,500 in fare collections per year, with $125,000 per year coming from large resorts that pay the fares for their employees. A fare-free program would depend on those resorts contributing the same level of funding.
The county is also in discussions with Truckee and the Truckee Tahoe Airport Board to share some of the cost.
Truckee has proposed to pay Placer County for fares on Highway 89 and Highway 267 routes that are within town boundaries, an estimated $21,000. That would leave $220,000 in remaining annual costs for the county to cover.
The program should save the transit system $10,000 to $12,000 per year by eliminating the need to collect and count payments, as well as accounting services, according to a staff report.
According to research conducted for the TART Systems Plan in 2016, transit systems in other areas that have eliminated fares, including Mammoth Lakes and Park City, Utah, have seen ridership increase by 50%. The plan also states that the North Lake Tahoe region has fallen far behind other mountain resort areas when it comes to transporting its employees and visitors.
“Even though $1 or $1.50 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, there is some resistance to taking public transportation. When it’s free I think the numbers go up considerably,” said Samir Tuma, vice chair of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
In July Truckee began offering free transit on the routes within the town, and has since seen a 32% increase in ridership.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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