In addition to reducing traffic congestion and auto emissions that pollute the lake, supporters say such a water taxi service could help bolster the region’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Expected to start by June 30, the pilot program approved by the Tahoe Transportation District board last week will feature one or two boats running about 7 miles between Tahoe City, Calif., and Kings Beach bordering Crystal Bay, Nev.
“In many parts of the world this kind of transportation has been in place for decades,” board member Nancy McDermid said. “This is the 21st century and we need to move into it.”
The cost of the project, and individual shuttle tickets, will depend on response to the board’s formal request for bids. Past proposals for a north-to-south shuttle envisioned a $22.50 one-way ticket, with shorter routes for $7.50.
Based on attendance at public meetings last week, transportation officials are more excited about the program than local residents. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reported only five people attended a meeting Tuesday on the south shore and only one person offered public comment at Friday’s board meeting in Tahoe City.
“I think it’s a bad idea that just won’t go away,” South Lake Tahoe resident Jerome Evans told the board.
“It would create an immense disturbance to the lake itself,” Evans said. “For those of you that get out on the lake in small craft, as I do, you know that the last thing we need is more big wakes.”
Carl Hasty, the transportation district manager, expects the 20-passenger boats will primarily serve visitors, though local commuters are more than welcome.
“It’s a unique way to experience the area for the visitors,” Hasty said. “A lot of them don’t often have the opportunity to get out on the lake.”
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and Hasty both have singled out the need to address transportation needs in and around Lake Tahoe as Nevada and California press their joint effort to bring the winter Olympics back to the lake in 2022.
The Squaw Valley USA resort between Tahoe City and Truckee hosted the games in 1960.
“The physical legacies that we can do are great,” Krolicki said at a briefing earlier this month. “That would include a public transportation system that would serve this area far after the Games would be held.”
A U.S. city hasn’t hosted a Winter Games since Salt Lake City in 2002. Lake Placid, N.Y., and Squaw Valley USA are the only other U.S. venues in the 86-year span of the Games. Krolicki said Denver; Lake Placid, Bozeman, Mont.; and Salt Lake City are other potential suitors for a 2022 bid.
Hasty said the Tahoe area is accustomed to serving the size of crowds anticipated for such an event but “what we don’t have in place — we don’t move those kinds of numbers around interregional via public transportation.”
“We’re working on the mobility of all those folks not in their cars,” he said. “These kinds of improvements are going to happen regardless, because the area needs them.”
Hasty said if all goes well with the pilot ferry program — and funding and permits come through for a larger project — construction for water transit piers could begin in 2013. He said details are still in the works, such as where exactly they would stop and when they would run.