Mayoral contenders take different routes

Kevin Johnson.

Kevin Johnson.

Public transportation was barely on the radar in last June’s mayoral election. Perhaps it will get a little more attention before the November runoff between Mayor Heather Fargo and her challenger, Kevin Johnson.

We asked the candidates what’s wrong with Regional Transit, and how they’d save it.

Johnson lamented possible service cuts in some parts of town where it’s needed most. He recalled speaking to one elderly Colonial Heights resident who complained her bus route had been eliminated. “When it’s not easily available for these older people, they’re afraid to travel,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that it’s important that RT support the goals of the Blueprint, the Sacramento region’s growth plan for the next 30 years. As mayor, he said, he’d help by bringing home more money. “I’m going to be very aggressive in finding federal and state funding sources.”

But he’s not convinced that RT needs an additional sales tax. “I think it’s too early to say we should be raising taxes.”

Fargo, on the other hand, said she doubts the system can be grown without a big public investment, like an additional sales tax. “I think it is going to be necessary. I don’t think that without an additional source of revenue that you can fund a complete transit system.”

Mayor Heather Fargo.

Fargo called the RT system “pretty skeletal,” and said she’d like to see more neighborhood shuttles and an expansion of the streetcar system beyond the downtown-to-West Sacramento loop that’s currently on the drawing board.

“You know, streetcars cost half as much per mile as light rail does. I’d love to see it extended along Broadway and Stockton.”

She sees the streetcar system not just as a transit option but as an economic-development tool. “Businesses like to locate along streetcar lines.” Imagine the San Francisco streetcar or the St. Charles line in New Orleans.

Fargo agreed the system needs more money from the state, and called the proposed state budget cuts to RT “ridiculous” given the governor’s stated commitment to environmental quality and energy conservation. “We have rising gas prices and rising demand for transit. Everything is going up except the amount of money for transit.”