IT’S 6 PM, and TART Connect driver Susan Hahn is getting ready to start her shift of picking people up and dropping them off at places around Incline Village and Crystal Bay free of charge. Even though it’s a Monday night, Hahn is especially busy since the day marks the first snow of the season. It’s cold outside and quite a few of IV/CB’s hospitality workers don’t have cars, so utilizing this complimentary on-demand service is a great alterative on freezing nights like these.
Full disclosure: Susan and I have been friends for at least 10 years, meeting at Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe when she was the office manager and I worked in the marketing department. Her father-in-law lived on Country Club Drive in Incline Village for 15 years (I spent a Thanksgiving there with Grandpa Gerry) and Susan’s daughters Cassie and Sammy have also lived in Incline Village on and off throughout the years. The Hahn family knows the IV/CB area well.
Everybody absolutely loves Susan, so it wasn’t a surprise when I learned that she became a Lyft driver three years ago. Around that same time, Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows introduced a free on-demand shuttle service through Mountaineer to provide on-demand rides in and around Olympic Valley. In the 2018/19 winter season, it gave more than 150,000 rides.
Its enormous success prompted other North Lake Tahoe communities to get involved, and this past summer Downtowner partnered up with TART (Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit) to bring this service to Incline Village/Crystal Bay. It can provide rides for free since the service is paid for out of the TOT (Transit Occupancy Tax).
The summer TART Connect service was so popular in its pilot season that it recently reintroduced it to run this winter. It has been operating from 6pmmidnight daily but may expand them depending on demand.
Shortly after Susan picks me up from the Incline Substation, there are already five rides lined up in the queue by 6:15 pm. We pick up two Argentinians who are renting a house off Tyner (Susan knows the owners and has been here a few times before) and we drop them off at Raley’s, and then from there pick up two guys from Thailand armed with shopping bags and take them down to their home at Mays Boulevard. I’m blown away at how busy she is so early into her shift on a Monday night.
“When people figured this out, it’s like a whole new world opened up for Incline,” Susan says.
It seems that most of the rides she gives are for seasonal and hospitality workers who are juggling several jobs to stay afloat. We talk about how nice it is to have a safe service available to get to and from the local bars (especially travelling that stretch from Crystal Bay to Incline where there’s no shoulder to safely ride a bike or walk) and data showing that ride share services are reducing drinking and driving incidents.
As she says this, we pick up some people from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and a customer from the Paddlewheel who she knows well.
“You make a lot of friends from this job,” she says.
“Being a Tahoe Connect driver is like being a bartender or a therapist,” Susan says. If I wasn’t there, people will sit up front with her and either keep quiet or unload their whole life story.
“I have so many regulars; that’s why it’s so needed here,” Susan says.
When I ask what Susan’s favorite part of the job is, she replies, “You know me, I talk to everybody. And I get to listen to my own music, be kind of independent. I love the regulars. So many times, I drop someone off and they say, ‘Love you, Susan!’ That’s how close knit this community is.”
The TART Connect operates in three zones including the Tahoe City area, Kings Beach area, and Incline Village/Crystal Bay. To book a ride, download the app, choose the destination in the appropriate zone, and the driver will be there within 15 minutes to pick you up. If you don’t have the app, you can also call 530-2145811.