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12k riders, Tahoe's Sand Harbor shuttle a success
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INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (AP) — The new shuttle bus system at Lake Tahoe's Sand Harbor State Park has been declared a success and is coming back again next summer, albeit with a possible tweak or two to better target peak demand at the sandy peninsula on the azure mountain lake's north shore.

Ridership totaled 12,155 on the East Shore Express during 81 days of operation between the park and nearby Incline Village, the Tahoe Transportation District said.

Daily ridership averaged 150 for the season, from June 15 through Labor Day weekend. June was the slowest, with big spikes later for weekends and holidays — the biggest on July 3 with 1,430 riders.

Running daily in 20-minute intervals from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the shuttle is part of an effort to help slow erosion around the lake, ease congestion and improve safety along Nevada Highway 28.

The roundtrip tickets including park entry fee cost $3 for adults, $1.50 for children.

"For a pilot program, it was very successful," said Curtis Garner, Tahoe Transportation District transit manager.

"We were happy with the ridership, the lessened congestion," he told the Sierra Sun. "Customer satisfaction scores were really good, so people who used it, liked it."

Daily ridership averaged more than 320 for the Labor Day weekend and more than 350 for the week of July 1-8. That compared with a typical weekend of 288 rides a day and only 54 riders daily on weekdays outside those two stretches.

Gardner said they may consider cutting back weekday service or perhaps start later in the summer. Only one day in June had ridership in excess of 100.

"We're going to take what we've learned and collectively decide how we want to approach next year," he said about the program designed to reduce emissions from idling cars as well as sedimentation on dirt highway shoulders.

Home to the annual summer Tahoe Shakespeare Festival where a sand dune provides a natural amphitheater, the backside of the park has a nature trail and another small cove popular with scuba divers.

Jay Howard, park supervisor of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, which includes Sand Harbor, said the shuttle has "vastly" improved safety on the highway, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Along with the new shuttle service came a prohibition on sumer walk-up visitors, a move designed to keep pedestrian flow off the roadway hugging the lake's shore.

The park has struggled for years with difficult parking — just 615 parking spots and no room for new ones. Park officials wanted to ban walk-ins for years, but didn't want to turn people away from a public park, Howard said.

"When we close on those busy days, there's usually still literally hundreds of people out there that still want to come in, so in the past and this has been happening for the last several decades people park out there on the highway and they walk in," he said.

"We felt there needed to be some alternative way for people to get in if we were going to take that more extreme step of not allowing walk-ins."

Garner said the program received $200,000 in a variety of grants last year but still needs rider fees to cover gas and vehicle maintenance.

Howard said the state park previously made about $10,000 annually off the $1 walk-in entry fee but doesn't miss the money in light of the improvements. He said transportation district officials deserve credit.

"We thought it (the shuttle) was such a good idea that that we basically said the money paid to ride the bus can stay with them," he said. He said the difference in congestion this year was night and day.

It's "a narrow highway where people drive fast and there's curves and there's no sidewalks," he said. "You have people families and kids and moms pushing strollers and people pushing barbecues and lugging coolers out there with this high level of traffic."

"It was kind of like a ghost town out there on the highway this summer," he said. "It was great."