New water taxi makes a splash on the North Shore

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun

For the first time since the 1920s, a water shuttle service is available on Lake Tahoe's North Shore.

In June, Daryl Butterfield and Madelina Silva, owners of nightclub Zenbu in Squaw Valley, started taxi service - ZenBlu Water Adventures - after chewing on the idea for a couple years.

"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to take a water shuttle from Jake's on the Lake to (another lakefront restaurant)?'" Butterfield said.

The new company would not only fill a niche on the lake, but give the couple an opportunity to have two separate seasonal businesses, Silva said.

ZenBlu has just one boat for now - a 36-foot Dayliner motor yacht - and is operating more like a taxi than a bus service.

Eventually, they would like to have two vessels providing constant service, Butterfield said.

"We're working out the bugs," Butterfield said. "Our goal right now is spreading the word."

Since the operation began two weeks ago, ZenBlu has transported more than 70 travelers.

"Two years from now, we could be running this shuttle. It's in the beginning phases," Butterfield said.

The idea behind the business is to reduce the number, and therefore impact, of cars on the roads, to provide safe transportation, and to keep the new service affordable.

Jan Colyer, executive director of the Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Agency, said she supports the Butterfields' entrepreneurial spirit.

"It's the beginning of something, I hope. I've wanted something (like this) to happen," she said in a phone interview. "There's such potential."

A ferry service across the lake is still in the works. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was designated $8 million for a boat shuttle from the North Shore to the South Shore, Colyer said.

By the time the ferry is up and running, Colyer said, she would like to see infrastructure, including water taxis and local shuttle services, already in place.

South Shore's version

South Lake Tahoe has a similar water shuttle operation through Action Watersports of Tahoe, and its owner said it's been a financially challenging business so far.

"There are times when there's no one, and times when there's 20 people," said business owner Bob Hassett.

The South Shore Water Shuttle operates more like a bus than a taxi service. The boat has room for almost 50 people, costs $6 for a one-way ticket, and runs consistently in the summer on an hourly schedule.

While it likely keeps an extra 300 to 500 cars off the road, the company has had up to a $30,000 deficit after each season, Hassett said.

Operational costs are of concern to Butterfield and Silva, too.

The cost of fuel is the biggest distress at this point. But the long-term goal for ZenBlu is to run the boats with biodiesel. It may be a number of years before alternative fuels are even permitted on the lake, Butterfield said, but they are hoping to be among the first.

By the numbers


36: Length of the water taxi boat in feet

2-9 p.m.: Hours of operation

10: Dollars per person per


70: People transported in

first two weeks of business

10: People the Dayliner yacht can hold

Check it out

Need a water ride? Want to book a private charter?

Call ZenBlu Water Adventures at (530) 414-0723.


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