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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Lake Tahoe Basin - CA

FAST FACTS ABOUT: Lake Tahoe Basin - CA
Types of TDM:
Mode Choice, Route Choice
Keywords: tourism, trolley service, private shuttle service, gondola, transportation management association, recreation
Area Demographics: Mountain communities surrounding Lake Tahoe, an attractive year-round recreation and vacation destination. Historically, a peak Friday in August experiences the highest annual daily traffic volumes. About 56,000 live in the Tahoe Basin year-round.
Program: Various programs including two summer trolley services and private shuttle services catering primarily to Basin visitors. Private investments such as the Heavenly gondola.
Results: 20% of Heavenly’s visitors arrive via the gondola. In 2001, the combined trolley service ridership was nearly 90,000 passengers during a limited summer operational season.
Cost of Programs: Limited information available. In 2001, Nifty 50 operated on a budget of $200,000 which included 5 vehicles. During the same year, the TNT / TMA operated with a budget of about $160,000.
Staff: Limited information available. South Shore TMA has one full-time person. TNT / TMA utilizes one full time director and one part-time employee.
Contact: Dick Powers, South Shore TMA and Jennifer Merchant, TNT / TMA


Area Characteristics
The Lake Tahoe Basin incorporates two states and five counties between the Sierra Nevada and Carson mountain ranges. Approximately two-thirds of the Basin is in California and one-third in Nevada. The area can be characterized as mountainous with limited areas of level terrain. Lake Tahoe itself is twenty-two miles long and 12-miles wide with 72-miles of shoreline.

The population of the Lake Tahoe Basin consists of residents and visitors. The Basin economy is significantly dependent on resort, recreational, and gaming industries. The resident population lives and works in the basin, and the influx of visitors arrive during the winter ski season (December through March), and the summer seasons (June through August). However, the month of August has the highest travel demand in terms of peak hour traffic volumes on the roadways. Currently (according to 2000 census data) about 56,000 people reside year-round in the Basin. Population growth through 2010 is expected to be modest in contrast to the rest of the four counties of which the Tahoe Basin is a part. The land use restrictions and the physical carrying capacity of the Basin will tend to maintain steady linear trends in population growth.

The roadway network within the Basin consists essentially of a “ring road” with a handful of regional access points. Most of the roadway network supporting the Basin can be classified as 2-lane highway and local collectors and arterials. Traffic entering the Basin has access from several points. The most direct access route to the City of South Lake Tahoe from points west and east is U.S. 50. State Route (S.R.) 89 and S.R. 267 provide access from Truckee and the I-80 corridor on the north. S.R. 89 through Tahoe City consistently maintains the highest traffic volumes entering the Basin both during the peak month and yearly. Except for U.S. 50 from the east, all the access routes are two-lane highways.
In response to the TRPA air quality threshold standards, the 1992 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) established a VMT threshold standard to reduce vehicle miles of travel (VMT) by 10 percent of the 1981 base values. A number of demand-side programs have been implemented in an effort to obtain the VMT threshold.

Public and Private Transportation Investments
The Tahoe Basin is served by two publicly operated transit systems, tourist oriented trolley services, and a number of privately operated shuttle systems. Demand response service is offered by many agencies, and subsidized taxi services are also available. Basin agencies have realized investment in existing infrastructure with comprehensive studies concluding with detailed recommendation for pedestrian and bicycle facilities as well as enhancements to the existing ITS initiatives. Highlighted below are a few of the innovative programs and TDM measures that the Basin has successfully implemented in recent years.

Visitor-based Trolley Service - In addition to the two established local transit agencies operating in the Basin, there are two successful summer trolley systems operated by the local Transportation Management Associations. The north shore service, Tahoe Trolley, is free at night but requires a minimal fare during the day. Service is available for approximately 60 days during the summer. In 2001, 18,000 riders used the service despite a 25% service cutback due to the limited availability of drivers. The south shore of Lake Tahoe supports a separate trolley system called Nifty 50. As a tourist-focused system, Nifty 50 operates approximately 80 days during the summer months from 10AM to 10PM. In 2001, 70,000 passengers used the service.

Privately Operated Shuttle Service
- Several privately operated shuttle services also operate in the Basin. Casinos and hotels offer daily shuttle services while the major ski areas offer shuttle services either on a contract basis or privately during winter months. Services are available on both the north and south shore areas. As documented, the casino shuttles offer a significant service providing nearly 500,000 one-way passenger-trips per year. North shore ski areas to the south shore also provide service. Coordination of services between the public transit system on the south shore and the ski shuttles is afforded by use of common bus stops. The Tahoe Queen operating out of the Ski Run Marina also provides a waterborne ski shuttle service between the north and south shore areas.

Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola - In 2000, Heavenly Ski Resort installed a gondola providing direct access from the hotels, casinos and center of South Lake Tahoe to the resort. The gondola affords mountain views covering 2.4 miles for the 17-minute scenic ride. The new gondola recently won the Silver Eagle Award from the National Ski Areas Association, recognizing the improvement the gondola has made to the resort and community in reducing vehicle trips while minimizing visual impacts and environmental disturbances. Heavenly reports that 20% of their winter visitors access the ski resort via the gondola, which has helped reduce traffic congestion in South Lake Tahoe.

Transportation Management Associations - Over the last ten years, a number of measures have been implemented in the Basin through two community-based transportation management associations (TMAs).
The Truckee/North Tahoe TMA (TNT/TMA) has been a local leader in addressing transportation issues as well as disseminating information and providing transportation alternatives. One of their most successful programs is the Tahoe Trolley, which provides a summer season service (approximately 60 days) in and around north shore communities, resort areas, and to Emerald Bay providing a link to the south shore transit options. In addition, the TNT/TMA has taken the lead in coordinating expanded winter transit service for the north shore. Currently, one full-time and one part-time employee operate the TMA with an annual budget of about $160,000. 44% of the required revenue is generated from member contributors including local jurisdictions and area resorts.

Serving South Lake Tahoe, the South Shore TMA has focused primarily on appealing to the visitor market of the Basin. Formed in 1994, the TMA initiated the successful summer trolley program, Nifty 50 Trolley. The TMA is responsible for maintenance, drivers and securing funding as well as all other logistical matters related to the service. The South Shore TMA is actively involved with local planning efforts and is leading the effort to institute the coordinated transit system (CTS), which would combine both public and private transit services of the south shore. The South Shore TMA and NDOT are also working on securing funding to expand the existing seasonal shuttle service and to provide service to employees commuting between the Tahoe Basin and the Carson Valley.

Measures of Effectiveness
Programs highlighted above contribute positively to the overall transportation and visitor experience within the Tahoe Basin. Summarized below are indicators of program performance provided by project sponsors:

• Seasonal Trolley Service Ridership (Summer of 2001):

• 18,000 passengers on Tahoe Trolley, north shore.
• 70,000 passengers on Nifty 50, south shore.

• 500,000 one-way passenger trips per year provided by private casino shuttles.
• 20% visitor using the gondola to access Heavenly from South Lake Tahoe versus arriving by vehicle.


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