It was the best of times; it was the worst of times: Apple Hill did a booming business this fall and had the traffic congestion to prove it. The Apple Hill Shuttle, run by El Dorado County Transit Authority, has been a big part of moving people from one apple orchard to another for 24 seasons, but it won’t be around to do so for the next two years.
“For 24 seasons we’ve had two routes to take people around to the growers,” said Mindy Jackson, El Dorado Transit executive director, “but the traffic has gotten so bad that we had some people on the bus from the Schnell School parking lot to Abel’s Acres for an hour. A good shuttle should run every 10-15 minutes. It should pick you up, take you where you want to go and bring you back and be a pleasant experience. This was not a good experience for our passengers.”
The shuttle runs only on October weekends and has a red and a green route which start from different areas and meet. There are 28 shuttle stops in an area with narrow roadways. Buses have been delayed due to traffic congestion and in some drop-off locations there were serious conflicts between pedestrians and cars on the roadways.
The shuttle is mainly funded with an El Dorado County Air Quality Management grant, which has 20 percent matching funds that come from Apple Hill growers and El Dorado County Transit. The Transit also offers a Fair Shuttle which operates successfully during the El Dorado County Fair and is paid for with Air Quality Management grant funding.
Three years ago, Jackson said, Transit noticed that the traffic situation at Apple Hill was degrading, but there were two years of funding left and the shuttle was continued.
“Recognizing that the lack of a rewarding encounter on the shuttle impacts the customers’ overall experience at Apple Hill and the necessity to improve safety for bus patrons, the El Dorado County Transit Authority will take at least two years off from submitting a competitive grant through the County of El Dorado Air Quality Management District for operating the shuttle,” stated a press release from El Dorado County Transit Authority.
“It was really hard to recommend not doing the shuttle but if it isn’t effective and it negatively impacts the experience our customers have, then it isn’t a good idea to continue it,” said Jackson. “We would like to work with the growers and other agencies to reduce the congestion and be part of the solution. We’re a victim of our own success — we have this wonderful place where people want to come, but we need to figure out how to do it safely.”
“The Apple Hill Growers are extremely grateful to El Dorado Transit for the many years of partnership on mitigating congestion in October traffic. The shuttle worked well for many years, but with increased October weekend traffic tour ranches, it just can’t be as effective as we need,” read a statement from the Growers’ Association.
“We’ve had a huge year at Apple Hill, so we haven’t had a chance yet to plan for 2014,” said Ann Wofford, secretary for the Apple Hill Grower’s Association. “Next October feels like a long way away.”
Still, since the 50th anniversary of the founding of Apple Hill will be arriving in 2014, along with the many visitors that social media has engendered, the Growers’ Association is taking steps to let the public know that October weekends aren’t the only time to visit.
“Most ranches open on Labor Day weekend … and November has been amazing,” said Wofford. “We want to let people know that, if they want to avoid the crowds, they can visit us in September and November or come early in the day on October weekends.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.