Looking to make a splash | SierraSun.com

Looking to make a splash

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunEmployees of the Village at Squaw Valley take a ride on the Zen-Blue, a new water taxi that now operates on Lake Tahoe's North Shore. The service began two weeks ago.
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For the first time since the 1920s, a water shuttle service is available on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore.

Daryl Butterfield and Madelina Silva, owners of nightclub Zenbu in Squaw Valley, started their Lake Tahoe taxi service ” ZenBlu Water Adventures ” in June after chewing on the idea for a couple years.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to take a water shuttle from Jake’s on the Lake to” another lakefront restaurant, Butterfield related to directors of the Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Agency at a meeting Thursday morning.

The new company was not only intended to fill a niche on Lake Tahoe, but give the couple two seasonal businesses, Silva said in a phone interview.

ZenBlu has just one boat for now ” a 36 foot Dayliner motor yacht ” and is operating more like an on-call taxi than bus service with a fixed route. Eventually they would like to have two vessels providing continual service, Butterfield said.

“We’re working out the bugs,” Butterfield said. “Our goal right now is spreading the word.”

Since the operation began two weeks ago, ZenBlu has transported more than 70 travelers.

“Two years from now we could be running this shuttle,” Butterfield said. “It’s in the beginning phases.”

Butterfield said the idea behind the new business was to reduce the number of cars, and their impacts, on basin roads, to provide safe transportation and to keep the new transit affordable.

Executive Director Jan Colyer of the transportation management agency said she supports the entrepreneurial spirit of Butterfield and Silva.

“It’s the beginning of something, I hope. I’ve wanted something [like this] to happen,” she said in a subsequent interview. “There’s such potential.”

Meanwhile, a ferry service running across the lake is still in the works. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has designated $8 million for a boat shuttle from the North Shore to the South Shore, Colyer said.

By the time the ferry is up and running, Colyer said, she would like to see an infrastructure, including water taxis and local shuttle services, already in place.

And this is a good place to start, Colyer said.

South Lake Tahoe has a similar water shuttle operation through Action Watersports of Tahoe, and the owner said it’s been a financial challenge so far.

“There are times when there’s no one and times when there’s 20 people,” said owner Bob Hassett.

The South Shore Water Shuttle operates more like a bus than a taxi service. The boat has room for almost 50 people, costs $6 for a one-way ticket and runs on an hourly schedule in the summer.

While it likely keeps an extra 300 to 500 cars off the road, the company has seen up to a $30,000 deficit after each season, Hassett said.

Operational costs are of concern to Butterfield and Silva, too.

The cost of fuel is the biggest concern at this point. But the long-term goal for ZenBlu is to run the boats by biodiesel. It may be a number of years before alternative fuels are even permitted on the lake, Butterfield said, but they are hoping to be among the first.

“If not now, then when? If not me, who?” Butterfield asked.