Thanks to microtransit, Lake Tahoe is handing out free rides all summer

Free, on-demand shuttles are picking up passengers in Lake Tahoe and Truckee

Photo of Julie Brown
A TART Connect shuttle picks up passengers in North Lake Tahoe. The shuttle is part of a new microtransit program that officials hope will make a dent in Tahoe's traffic woes.

A TART Connect shuttle picks up passengers in North Lake Tahoe. The shuttle is part of a new microtransit program that officials hope will make a dent in Tahoe's traffic woes.

Ryan Salm / Courtesy of Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau

Rather than order an Uber or Lyft on your next visit to Lake Tahoe, try calling up one of the local, on-demand shuttles for a ride that’s entirely free. In case you missed that: Yes, on-demand microtransit is free in Tahoe. You don’t have to drive and you don’t have to pay. It even helps reduce pollution.

Microtransit has been on the rise in Lake Tahoe in recent years as an innovative solution to alleviate the region’s traffic gridlock and reduce greenhouse gases. The free shuttles have been picking up passengers throughout North Lake Tahoe, from Incline Village to Tahoma, and out to Northstar and Olympic Valley. This summer, microtransit programs are expanding to Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.

Local officials hope that microtransit will play a key role in making public transportation in Tahoe what it hasn’t been before: convenient and easy. 

“It keeps cars parked in driveways,” said Andy Chapman, president and CEO of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau, in an interview with SFGATE last year, about microtransit’s evolution in Lake Tahoe

Especially on the Fourth of July, Lake Tahoe’s busiest weekend, local transportation agencies are promoting the use of free transit to fireworks and drone shows to make the weekend less hectic and intense on the roads. (If you’re visiting Tahoe for the Fourth of July, make sure to plan ahead in light of traffic.)

In the last six months, the proof of microtransit’s success is in the expansion of its service to places like downtown Truckee and the casino corridor on Tahoe’s South Shore.

“It keeps congestion off the roads,” Chapman said. “It’s easier for people to get from their home to a doctor’s appointment, if a resident is using it. It’s easier for visitors to go from the Hyatt to Crystal Bay for a show, things like that.”

On the North Shore, Tart Connect is an app-based shuttle service that picks up riders anywhere along the North and West shores of Lake Tahoe, from Incline Village to Tahoma, and also down to Olympic Valley and Northstar, and with the new expansion, now into Truckee. 

Last year, Chapman told SFGATE that local residents make up more than half of the ridership. He hopes that visitors will make use of the free shuttles too when they come to Tahoe for vacation. Use your phone to book a seat, tell the driver where you want to go and where to drop you off. It’s entirely free.

TART Connect will now shuttle passengers to Tahoe Donner through Truckee’s commercial core, Glenshire and the Tahoe Forest Health System zone. Riders can request a ride through the TART Connect app, which provides real-time information on estimated pickup times and the location of the vehicle. All vehicles in the microtransit program are equipped with bicycle racks. 

In South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, calling up a microtransit shuttle uses a different app and website, but it’s the same concept as the program on the North Shore. The South Shore microtransit program is called Lake Link, and it launches next month.

Lake Link will run in a zone between the casino corridor, Al Tahoe Boulevard and Pioneer Trail. After it launches, the free, on-demand shuttles will run year-round from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on weekends in summer and winter until 10 p.m.

“Lake Link is a new tool to help alleviate congestion in our tourist core and at some of the most popular recreation access points,” said Raymond Suarez, Lake Link program manager. “It will connect visitors and residents to trails, beaches, entertainment, nightlife and be a resource for general commuters. This service will prove convenient, and by reducing vehicle traffic and getting more people to use public transit, we’ll improve our environment and help protect the lake.”

The Lake Link shuttles have capacity to transport as many as 12 passengers and are equipped with bike and ski racks. Some shuttles are wheelchair accessible.

The South Shore Transportation Management Association hopes to expand the service as demand increases and more funding opportunities become available. 

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