Be aware of funding issues when deploying ITS transit systems.

Experience from the Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System.

Date Posted

Evaluation of the South Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS) Project Phase III Evaluation Report

Summary Information

In 2000, the U.S. Congress earmarked funds for selected projects that were assessed as supporting improvements in transportation efficiency, promoting safety, increasing traffic flow, reducing emissions, improving traveler information, enhancing alternative transportation modes, building on existing intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and promoting tourism. Among the selected projects was the Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS).

The CTS was viewed as a means of reducing congestion, protecting the environment and earning mitigation credits for redevelopment in the Lake Tahoe region. Through combining transit services offered by private and public sector stakeholders into one centrally dispatched operation that uses intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies, the CTS would also improve transit efficiency and create a more visitor friendly transit system. The CTS project spans the jurisdiction of two counties in two states, as well as one city, and incorporates the private transit resources of five casinos and one ski resort, with the aim of serving the market objectives of both the public and private sectors. The key features of the new system included:

  • Automatic vehicle location (AVL)
  • Mobile data terminals (MDT)
  • Computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
  • Automatic passenger counters (APC)
  • Trip reservation/information kiosks
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for trip booking by telephone
  • Traffic surveillance cameras

A U.S. DOT evaluation report has summarized findings from a system impact study that focuses primarily on assessing the impacts on ridership, customer satisfaction and operating efficiency. Findings from an institutional issues review and a set of lessons learned on deploying and operating the various ITS transit technologies are also presented.

As part of the evaluation of the Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System, interviews were conducted among the stakeholders. A key topic discussed in all the interviews was funding, including both capital and operational funding.

The following set of lessons learned addresses the different aspects of funding that arose during the course of this project.

  • Coordinate your funding efforts among the stakeholder groups. The Tahoe area was successful in securing federal funding for capital expenses of the CTS, in large part because the stakeholder groups worked together to present a unified request for Federal funding. Local match funding was obtained from a joint effort from several different organizations, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), the Transportation and Water Quality Coalition, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Gaming Alliance, the North Tahoe Lake Association, and the Forestry Service.
  • Recognize the importance of having experience with the federal appropriations process for transit funding. The stakeholders’ lack of experience with the Federal transportation appropriations process increased the time and effort required to obtain federal funding for the project. As a result, the stakeholder group has been less successful in obtaining funds for the operational side of the CTS.
    • For example, stakeholders were not aware that the designation of South Lake Tahoe region as "rural" (i.e. it does not meet the population density requirements defined in the 2000 Census for an urbanized area) would severely limit the region’s ability to secure federal funding for transit operational costs. The majority of operational funding for the CTS comes from California and Nevada state funding, contributions of the casinos properties, and fare income from the system.
  • Anticipate public resistance to increased local taxes for operational funding. Several stakeholders mentioned that local taxes are a source of potential operational funding for CTS. However, residents have voted down several previous attempts to increase local taxes. Educating the public about the benefits of a transit system will be essential to winning public support for a local tax increase.
  • Secure operational funding before implementing the system. Obtaining operational funding has proved to be the biggest funding challenge for the stakeholder group. Due to a lack of funding, plans to expand the system had to be placed on hold.

Stakeholders mentioned a number of funding issues regarding the CTS project. Among the key issues were the coordination of funding efforts among stakeholders, the importance of understanding the federal appropriations process for transit funding, and the need to secure operational funding before implementing the system. Securing adequate funding is critical to the continued operations of the coordinated transit system and will enable future expansion or enhancements to the system.

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