Lake Tahoe transit: How cellphone data is being used to understand needs

LAKE TAHOE — Despite a regional population of only 55,000 full-time residents, about 10 million vehicles make the trip to the Lake Tahoe Basin per year, according to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s draft regional transportation plan.

It also says that the average number of people in the Lake Tahoe region on a given day is four times the permanent resident population. The 140-page “Linking Tahoe” draft transportation plan does more than quantify the region’s traffic problems — it also analyses how people are getting around, what they’re doing and where they’re going — by using cellphone data.

“For transit, it gives us a better idea of where we need to be focusing our efforts,” Tahoe Transportation District Manager Carl Hasty told the Sierra Sun recently.

He said that the cellphone data obtained by the district doesn’t include any personal information and that the technology has been used by businesses for a long time — although this is a first for local transportation planners at TTD and TRPA.

“In the past, you’d set up cameras to photograph license plates, but you wouldn’t know anything about the person or where they were going,” he said.

Hasty said the district, which has been working with TRPA on the draft Linking Tahoe plan, contacted a vendor who has contracts with cellphone providers.