Ferry service on Lake Tahoe getting closer


By Kathryn Reed

Twenty-five minutes to get from the South Shore to the North Shore? Yes, by ferry.

That is the goal of the Tahoe Transportation District, the lead agency trying to bring ferry service to Lake Tahoe. By summer 2016 two 120-passenger ferries could be traveling year-round between South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City.

It is being called an environmental asset as well as a transportation tool.

“It would be equivalent to a light rail corridor for Tahoe,” Alfred Knotts, project manager, told Lake Tahoe News. “This is part of the long-term vision and how each piece creates a regional transit system.”

A ferry like this might one day ply the waters of Lake Tahoe. Photo/Provided

A ferry like this might one day ply the waters of Lake Tahoe. Photo/Provided

Comments are being taken until Jan. 3 on the notice of intent/notice of preparation for the project. Comments will be incorporated into the draft environmental impact report and draft environmental impact statement. Those are expected to be released in a year. The final EIR/EIS could come out in summer 2015, with permitting that fall, and upgrades to the piers and other land improvements done in the 2016 building season, and service starting when that is completed.

Knotts gave a presentation Dec. 4 to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Advisory Planning Commission. He will do the same Dec. 13 at the TTD board meeting.

Parking concerns at both ends of the lake were brought at the meeting, as were greenhouse gases, scenic impacts, dredging and fisheries.

The goal is to not have everyone drive to one of the marinas, but instead take another form of transportation – bus, bike or foot power.

“We don’t want parking spilling over to business or residential areas that could be adversely impacted,” Knotts said. It may mean increasing the bus service to make this happen.

According to TRPA, piers are a scenic concern. That is one reason the Grove Street Pier is being looked at instead of the Tahoe City Marina. It’s possible piers at both ends of the lake will need to be extended and possibly widened to accommodate the boat, people and existing services.

Marina owners have been consulted and are privy to what is being contemplated.

Ski Run Marina has a dredging permit. Dredging might be required in low water years or to cope with the seasonality of the lake level. Officials are looking into what might be required in Tahoe City.

It’s estimated that during peak summer travel the boats would make eight trips a day, carrying 120-passengers. It could be a tool for commuters, skiers, people wanting to dine at the other end of the lake, or tourists looking for something fun to do.

Preliminary plans are for 10 spots for bikes, but people who spoke Wednesday said that number should be increased. Ensuring skis and snowboards can be secure will also be worked into the design, and maybe golf clubs.

Transit officials have been looking at Washington state ferry service to come up with a vessel that could handle the needs and conditions of Lake Tahoe. Ideally, the boat will be able to weather the high seas that during storms have the lake looking like the ocean. However, the contingency plan would be to bus people back to the originating marina if need be.

TTD would hire an operator much like it has done for the South Shore bus service BlueGo.

Cost of the boats and marina upgrades are estimated to be $33 million. Annual operating costs come to $3.3 million. Federal transportation subsidies would help pay the operating costs. State and federal money are likely to pay for the capital expenses. Until the environmental documents are completed funding cannot be secured.



• More information is available online.

• TTD board meeting is Dec. 13 at 9:30am at Granlibakken in Tahoe City.

• Future workshops and meetings about the ferry will in part be determined based on the comments received so they can be addressed.



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Comments (33)
  1. suspicious mind says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    How big is the subsidy? Too big to publish for public
    consumption. Anyone want to buy a used catamaran being offered for sale in 2018?

  2. careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    I like the idea. Both towns are very walkable for those who are moderately active.

  3. BearinMind says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    LOVE the idea!

  4. 45Yearlocal says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    I really don’t like being a pessimist but it will probably fail due to lake of ridership just like the other water taxis over the years. It has just never worked regardless how much money you throw at it. Maybe this time they know something new ?

  5. CJ McCoy says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Another government run SNAFU waiting to happen.

  6. sailor1 says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Just a novelty ride for most. One and done. Where are you going to go once you arrive at either end? What is the financial or time incentive to ride this? Paid parking at each end, paid ferry ticket, paid bus fare at destination. Unless gas goes to $10/gallon and it takes 3 hours to drive the distance, the masses will not use this. I agree with Suspicious Mind. Pouring good money into this hole will not make it successful. By the way, how much is the sale price for the Cat in 2018?

  7. Inyo lake says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    We need more connection between both shores. This community sucks right now, why would you not want change. Also, more spots for bikes, big DH bikes.

  8. Steve says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Another harebrained government fiasco waiting to happen, gobble up tons of public money, provide bureaucrats with secure jobs pushing papers and attending endless meetings, and end up on its face. Like Cash for Clunkers, the solar company subsidies (e.g. Solyndra), the failed bus route to the Sacramento airport, and the bullet train.

    How can burning up 2,000 gallons of fuel per day (projected) on near-empty boats be environmentally advantageous? It is no surprise private enterprise with its own funds has been smart enough to steer clear of this fantasy. One can only wonder what the per-passenger cost will be.

  9. CJ McCoy says - Posted: December 5, 2013


    It is the incompetence of government that has led to the state of the community, to change why it sucks as you say you need to get government out of the picture.

    Reduce the scope of government, the number employees and the excessive pensions … then you can start fixing the community.

  10. A.B. says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    This has been tried before. Nothing new here.

  11. Orale says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    I’d love to ride to the north shore and take the bike trail on down. Trying to drive up there in the summer is a nightmare, but a boat ride and a bike ride in one day sounds great.

  12. Rooster says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    If done well and thought through I think it is a great idea.
    I agree the 10 bike limit would definitely not work in the summer. I could easily see just one group of friends with there bikes wanting to go across take up all the space on one boat? But I think that’s a problem that could easily be solved as well as the ski/snowboard storage issue.

  13. Buck says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    AB you are right this has been tried before but the TRPA made it impossible to happen. So now the TRPA will do it themselves. Would have been better for a small business run this shuttle.

  14. Lisa says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    We will definitely take advantage of it.

  15. Shenja says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    I’ve been told many times that we cannot afford to provide service to Meyers… How can we possibly afford this .. And which is actually more usefull to our community?! Why do we think it’s necessary to provide services to other city’s ( Carson city and Gardnerville ) and NOT MEYERS!… I’m FRUSTRATED AND DUMBFOUNDED BY THIS!

  16. CJ McCoy says - Posted: December 5, 2013


    Thanks for pointing it out…

    “TRPA made it impossible to happen. So now the TRPA will do it themselves. ”

    …with tax payer money to boot.

    What an arrogant and incompetent government agency.

    Nothing good in this, nothing.

  17. worldcycle says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    I have to agree with Shenja. Without a real transportation system in South Lake, how is this going to work? Once you get to the North Shore, there is a great bus system that goes from Sugar Pine to Incline, Squaw and Truckee year round. Here we have the perfect venue for a very workable transit system. Pioneer to Myers to N. Upper Truckee and 50 to Stateline. A big loop, buses running both directions and small feeder vans that service the various communities off of Emerald Bay Road, Black Bart, Al Tahoe etc…. As this stands if I were to want to go skiing on the North Shore, (I have a Heavenly and a Squaw Pass) I would have to drive to a terminus, pay for parking or poach a spot on a side street (unwanted neighborhood congestion) then buy a ticket. Hmmm I think the Queen does the sort of same thing but with dinner or something included. How much does that junket cost? Would this be similar. Certainly not good for anything but a lark or tourist day trippers. During the summer the visitors in areas without a transit system will still have to park or out in Myers way get a great bike ride to and from the terminus and they still have not got their ride in yet.

    Great idea, yet the foundation for successful ridership is seriously lacking.

  18. Moral Hazard says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Shenja, you were never told that “we cant afford” to provide bus service to Meyers. You were told that the people in Meyers do not pay for bus service and that if they want it then pay for it.

    If you want it then do the work of getting a ballot initiative to raise the taxes to get the money to pay for the service.

    You have been told this time after time. Bus service to Meyers has absolutely nothing to do with bus service to Carson.

  19. sunriser2 says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    This is what they spend the air quality mitigation fees on?

  20. Will Anderson says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    YES!! I’ve been looking forward to this (in fact any regular year-round connection from south to north). I will use it. Multiple daily transit connections to Truckee/Amtrak, shows on the north shore, bike and bus connections throughout South Lake.

    One hopes that the new leadership at the League would support this rather than oppose or sue (based on a semi-technical historical subtext I’ll not discuss here).

    It seems that a lot of these naysayers are folks who have never stepped out of their personal vehicle to walk, bike, bus, train, or any alternate mode. It WORKS, people. Quality of life for the new generation.

  21. Shenja says - Posted: December 5, 2013

    Moral hazard … It’s not my job to make things run efficiently .. It is however my right to voice my opinion and point out flaws in the system .. No matter what the reasoning is… It is someone else’s job ( those that represent me that we have voted in to ” thier job “) to fix the flaws. And yes I have written letters to those people!

  22. Ryan Payne says - Posted: December 6, 2013

    If you really want to reduce traffic, protect the environment, AND increase tourism, Walt Disney had the right idea over 50 years ago!

    Put a huge parking lot in Meyers and build a MONORAIL with several stops in town and connecting to the casinos….

    But since that idea would seem too far-fetched and ‘futuristic’ for all you naysayers out there, this ferry service is another step in the right direction!

  23. Orale says - Posted: December 6, 2013

    Great. Now I’ve got the ‘monorail song’ stuck in my head.

  24. dumbfounded says - Posted: December 6, 2013

    Ferry gas mileage is in the .02 to .07 MPG range…

  25. Say what? says - Posted: December 6, 2013

    So if they run 8 trips during peak season, and say 4 trips during off peak, that would be 2188 trips per year, assuming 6 months for each season. If you sold 45 seats per trip, that would give you about 100,000 passengers per year. This is probably an optimistic projection, but it makes the math easy.

    At $3.3 million in estimated operating costs, that’s $33 per passenger. Plus $33 million in start up costs. Seems like there should be a more cost effective way to get people to the other side of the lake.

  26. worldcycle says - Posted: December 6, 2013

    I believe boats are like planes and fuel efficiency is expressed in gallons per hour. Anyone hazard to guess the equation of positive revenue per passenger (fare costs each way), minus time of passage (fuel consumption) maintenance and upkeep, crews wages, government permits and a few other sordid miscellaneous costs and then what the amount of government subsidy it will take to keep this thing afloat.

    Not a naysayer here. Ride my bike everywhere weather and load (6-pack of beer vs. 5 sheets of plywood) permitting. A nice thought though providing a direct connection from the North upper Truckee River to the outlet of the Truckee River.

  27. hikerchick says - Posted: December 7, 2013

    How about having ZIP cars at each end of the line?

  28. Dan Stroehler says - Posted: December 7, 2013

    Since when are public transit systems supposed to turn a profit? I’ve always understood them to be part of infrastructure like roads or streetlights. Funded by us, the taxpayers.

  29. CJ McCoy says - Posted: December 7, 2013

    Why should it be public transit in the first place?

  30. Moral Hazard says - Posted: December 7, 2013

    Dan the problem is that in Meyers in would be cheaper and more fuel efficient to buy the few people who would ride the bus a car and a driver. No, bus routes should not be operated if they don’t make any sense financially. Financial performance is a reasonable metric to look at to determine is a system makes any sense at all.

  31. Shenja says - Posted: December 7, 2013

    Good point dan .. We shouldn’t have to “ask” for service … Technically we already pay for a service that isn’t provided.

  32. star says - Posted: December 10, 2013

    Paradigm shift for SOV-ers: Quit thinking with your car. If you come to Tahoe, use Amtrak/bus to get here. Once in Tahoe, continue with the buses and/or bike and walk.

  33. hiker412 says - Posted: December 26, 2013

    Regardless of whether the service sounds good, the current notice from the agencies for the environmental document estimates 2,000 gallons of gas PER DAY. This is NOT an environmental benefit for Tahoe. This idea originated decades ago when cars were far more polluting and it’s been stuck in the bureaucracy of Tahoe ever since. Times have changed and there are far cleaner options out there we could be looking at, but the agencies dismissed those without even giving them a chance.

    Even with full ridership, which is very unlikely, this is an extremely polluting way to travel on a per person basis – which ironically, is the opposite of what the agencies proclaimed the new Regional Plan was supposed to do – which was to reduce emissions per person (called per capita by CA law).

    Let’s make sure the agencies look at the realities here, too, before spending millions of our tax dollars to add MORE air and water pollution to Tahoe.