Opinion: I rode public transit around North Tahoe for a day; here’s what I learned | SierraSun.com

Opinion: I rode public transit around North Tahoe for a day; here’s what I learned

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's 2017 draft transportation plan says the Lake Tahoe region has a population of 55,000 full-time residents, but that 10 million vehicles and 24 million people visit the area annually.

Those numbers are only expected to increase, so when there's a traffic jam on the highway due to high visitation, residents are naturally concerned. The roads, for the most part, cannot really be widened. The solution put forth by government representatives, businesses and residents seems to be to invest in mass transit.

But every time I've visited the Tahoe City Transit Center, it has been relatively empty. The buses line up at their stops around the building at the top of every hour, breaking the silence with their squeaky brakes and doors swinging open, but I've never seen more than a few people get on or off.

I decided to try and find out why more people don't use the local public transit system using the best method I could think of: riding TART buses around North Lake Tahoe for myself.

I've lived in multiple places where I relied solely on public transit to get around. I've also sat in on a number of local transit planning meetings, so I felt like I had a solid understanding of what the issues.

The weekend visitor who rides the bus to a ski resort has a very different idea of what a public transit system needs than an everyday commuter, for example, and I tried to keep that in mind.

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Prior to hopping on a bunch of buses Monday morning, I read my share of Google reviews and I didn't have the highest hopes for the local system. I expected buses to be late or not come at all, or for drivers to drive past me on the side of the road — but that isn't what I found.

The bus drivers were friendly — much more friendly that anyone who's used to riding the bus in a major city would expect. But more than anything, they act as guides that clear up any confusion about bus times and routes.

All of the buses I rode arrived on time, and no one drove by me without stopping. Some even had places to store gear or luggage above the seats. The problems I encountered had nothing to do with arrival times or being passed by, but in understanding how to get from point A to B, as well as the condition of some of the buses.

Some of the buses were new and well maintained, but others were dirty both inside and out, and even had things like damaged seats and wheel wells.

And even with a strong understanding of the different neighborhoods and towns in North Lake Tahoe that I've developed from covering this region since July 2016, the pamphlet I picked up from the Truckee Visitor Center was pretty difficult to plan a trip with.

The routes list the times at each stop, but it wouldn't be clear to anyone unfamiliar with the region how to get around. Yes, apps like Google Maps can help transit riders figure out what buses to board and what times to meet them, but this isn't always a convenient option — especially for visitors who have a car and may find it easier to just drive, or for people in spotty cell coverage areas (which the Lake Tahoe region is full of).

Without the friendly and helpful TART drivers, it's safe to say I probably would've had to hitchhike back to Truckee from Incline Village.

Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at arhoades@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2653. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @akrhoades.

Have transit feedback?

The Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association is working with LSC Transportation Consultants Inc. in conducting a Transit Development Plan Update for eastern Nevada County. They’ve created a survey to ask residents about their public transit use, which you can take online at surveymonkey.com/r/truckee2017.