Tahoe transit service sputters in first month

The idea took eight years to become reality. Today people at South Shore are seeing signs for BlueGo and wondering what it is.

The people who control the transit service decided not to market it until casino shuttle services are tied into the system. The shuttles are expected to begin this week.

Radio and newspaper advertising will then begin to get the word out about BlueGo, a system designed to work in tandem with the Blue World advertising campaign for Tahoe.

The idea was to coordinate existing modes of public transit at South Shore in hopes to make rides more accessible and efficient. Environmentalists wanted BlueGo to get people out of cars and onto buses, vans and shuttles to help reduce air pollution and protect the environment in other ways.

The casinos and Heavenly Ski Resort -- South Shore's biggest employers -- agreed to be part of the system to reduce traffic at South Shore to make the area a more attractive destination; and to compensate for the environmental impact of the redevelopment of the Park Avenue area and the Heavenly master plan.

The system relies on computer software and a satellite tracking system that is expected to coordinate casino shuttles, city and county buses and vans, and Heavenly ski shuttles through one dispatch.

BlueGo computer kiosks and telephones have been installed at lodges and other places. Tracking software will allow riders to know where and when the closest bus will stop. The kiosks and phones also provide fixed route schedules for buses. There's also a general phone line and a non-operational Web site for BlueGo so rides can be ordered from home.

"It's working very well," said Chris Knight, general manager of Area Transit Management, which operates BlueGo and most of the public transit vehicles at South Shore before they became part of BlueGo. "When anything changes, it takes time for people to get used to. I expect it's going to be up to six months before everybody gets used to the new system."

BlueGo cost $4 million and took about 17 months to install. Orbital, a software company from Maryland, provided the means.

The project was funded mostly with federal money. It was approved by President Bill Clinton after the presidential summit at South Shore in 1997. His visit also led to funds for a natural gas filling station at Lake Tahoe Airport. Several of the 38 vehicles to be part of BlueGo run on natural gas, which decreases emissions and helps curb air pollution.

The fare to Stateline casinos will be $1. BlueGo's board of directors, chaired by Mike Bradford of Lakeside Inn & Casino, said the goal is to phase out the fare. But for the first couple of years, it will be a crucial part of the $3.2 million the system will cost to operate each year. Heavenly's ski shuttles are

When guests staying in town now call for a ride to Stateline casinos, shuttles compete to provide the service so the guest will use their casino, said Sue Hyde, vice president of marketing at Caesars Tahoe.

"The hope of this is to make it much more efficient and locate the closest (shuttle) bus," she said. "We'll be able to run on less, unless the demand increases, which would be wonderful."

However, an agreement requires 50 percent of first stops to be made at Harveys and Harrah's; 35 percent at Caesars; 7.5 percent at Horizon Casino Resort; and 7.5 percent at Lakeside Inn & Casino.

"The reason the properties are prepared to do this is because they believe that in the long term, creating a system will improve the destination," Bradford said. "That in turn would make up any margin of competitive difference in people who use the market."

If service level drops more than 10 percent, casinos can back out of BlueGo.


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