North Tahoe water shuttle grounded amid funding, ridership concerns
By the numbers
3,165: Number of people who rode the shuttle in 2014
22,500-25,500: Number of people predicted to ride each season
Source: Placer County
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The North Lake Tahoe Water Shuttle will not operate this summer in part due to funding concerns and a significant shortfall in anticipated users of the service.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted April 28 to not approve $149,000 in funding for the shuttle.
“I am and continue to be an advocate for waterborne transportation, but … part of our responsibility as a board is to say: Is this the best use of taxpayer dollars?” said Jennifer Montgomery, Placer County Supervisor for District 5.
According to county staff, the three-year pilot program did not meet several metrics identified in a 2010 study prepared by LSC Transportation Consultants, including:
• Poor ridership (3,165 people rode last summer, v. 22,500 to 25,500 predicted seasonally),
• Exceeding cost ($520,000 v. $380,000 in budgeted Transient Occupancy Tax funding); and
• Fewer locations serviced (the Tahoe Vista stop was eliminated prior to this year due to low water levels).
“The problem I’m having is it just fell so dramatically short of expectations,” said Robert Weygandt, District 2 supervisor.
Some at the April 28 meeting in Kings Beach urged the board to allow the shuttle to continue, including George Fink, transit system program manager for Tahoe Transportation District, a water shuttle partner.
“I do want you to bear in mind that transportation funding is a long game, so it does take some time to put these things into action and build up the momentum to actually get the transportation funding behind a program like this,” Fink said. “ … I would ask for patience in getting this up and running; however I do understand the economic realities of that.”
As part of its ruling, the board directed staff to work with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and other private partners to identify non-TOT co-funding sources when lake level and infrastructure conditions improve.
The shuttle’s return would hinge on securing non-TOT funding, said Jaime Wright, executive director of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.
“It’s our goal to return waterborne transit and really use the lessons learned from the pilot program to bring a more sustainable waterborne transit system to the North Shore,” she said.
A timeframe for its return is unknown, Wright said.
“I don’t think it will be our last shot at waterborne transit,” she said.
The shuttle ran each summer season from 2012-14. For a fee, it could transport up to 12 passengers and eight bikes to various North and West shore locations on a custom-built, 30-foot Centurion vessel operated by Fine Line Industries.
As of the April 28 meeting, Fine Line Industries had another party interested in the boat for use this summer; further details weren’t clear as of Tuesday.
Visit northlaketahoewatershuttle.com to learn more.