Free and fair parking

Fees only applied at one third of light-rail stations with parking

Lower fares, more security, cleaner stations—and now free parking.

In its latest bid to lure more riders and win public support, Sacramento Regional Transit is doing away with fees at park-and-ride lots. As of January 1, commuters no longer had to pay $1 a day or $20 a month to park at the Watt/I-80, Watt/I-80 west and Roseville Road light-rail stations. Effective March 1, parking will also be free at the lots on Franklin Boulevard and Florin, Meadowview and Power Inn roads, if the RT board signs off as expected on January 14.

While RT will be giving up about $208,000 a year in parking fees, it estimates that loss will be mostly offset by $77,000 in lower expenses and $95,000 in projected revenue from additional riders. Also, RT says it’s a matter of fairness, since fees were only being charged at eight of 24 light-rail stations with parking. While the eight lots have more than 4,300 spaces, only about 1,000 cars park daily.

This move follows the first fare cuts in RT’s 50-year history, which took effect October 1 and reduced the base fare from $2.75 per ride to $2.50 and the monthly pass from $110 to $100. Earlier in 2018, RT lowered the price of student passes from $55 a month to $20.

RT is on a long road back after slashing service and raising fares to among the nation’s highest during the 2008-09 recession. Ridership peaked in 2009 at 35 million (though about 900,000 were non-paying fare evaders) and dropped in 2017-18 to 20.8 million and another 4.8 percent last year through October.

To boost ridership, RT increased light-rail service on weekends starting January 6 and is looking at overhauling bus routes, which haven’t been significantly changed for three decades even as new retail and job centers have developed in the region. The proposal calls for ending some routes as well as extending and improving others. The RT board is to vote in February, with implementation in June.

All these changes, however, don’t lessen RT’s financial challenges. Sacramento County voters narrowly rejected a half-cent sales tax hike in November 2016 that would have given the agency more than $1 billion over 30 years to expand service and buy new equipment.