Despite a slow start to summer during the chilly middle weeks of June, ridership is picking up on the East Shore Express thanks to the July 4 holiday, officials said this week.
The Incline Village shuttle bus to and from Sand Harbor saw 2,839 riders from July 1 through July 8, according to statistics provided Tuesday by the Tahoe Transportation District. Of that number, 1,430 passengers were counted on the Fourth of July.
"Overall, I'd say it's been fairly successful," said Curtis Garner, transit manager for TTD.
While most riders were counted as being picked up either at Sand Harbor or the main parking lot at the old K-2 elementary school on Southwood Boulevard, some passengers last week, mainly on the 4th, boarded at the overflow parking location at the current K-5 elementary school off Northwood Boulevard, Garner said, and at a secondary location at the TART bus stop on Highway 28 across from Raley's.
On July 4, according to statistics, 287 passengers boarded from the old K-2 school, while 350 rode from the current elementary school; 201 people got on at the TART stop, and the remaining 592 got on at Sand Harbor.
The East Shore Express is a two-year pilot project that's part of a long-term revitalization plan that pledges to "streamline traffic flow and enhance the environmental and recreational assets" along Highway 28 between Incline and the Highway 50 intersection at Spooner Summit.
The shuttle itself is designed to help rid Highway 28 and its shoulders leading to and from Sand Harbor from heavy and dangerous summer traffic congestion.
While a slew of organizations and agencies are involved - including IVGID, Nevada State Parks and the Nevada Highway Patrol, among others - TTD is the lead agency. Since announcing in May that buses would pick up people at the old K-2 school, the district has heavily promoted the shuttle at the lake and in the Carson and Washoe valleys through print, billboard, digital and television advertising.
The shuttle started June 15, during a 40-degree spring weather stretch. Mostly because of the weather and the need to advertise the service, the transit saw only 438 passengers in June, Garner said.
Still, the Independence Day-aided uptick was encouraging, and with warm weather likely to stay through August, Garner said the district's goal of giving 30,000 rides by Labor Day seems reachable.
Also in May, Sand Harbor officials announced that walk-ins would no longer be accepted at the park once the shuttle started, serving as another tier of the region's aggressive approach to increase safety near arguably the most popular beach at Lake Tahoe.
So far, the approach is paying off, said NHP Sgt. Randy Jackson, who heads up the state's Tahoe highway patrols.
"The success was readily visible ... on the Fourth, there was only a little bit of back-up in the morning," he said when asked to assess the situation last week at Sand Harbor. "Once the park opened, we didn't have any serious incidents, other than pulling up a few times to ask someone to go along their way."
And the safety measures continue. On Wednesday, crews installed posts to the east and west of the Sand Harbor entrance - "No parking" signs are expected to be attached to them within two weeks to further discourage people from illegally parking and causing safety hazards, Jackson said.