Transit freebies pay off

Catherine Vade Bon Coeur, an East Sacramento resident

For 21 years, I lived in Riverside and commuted by car to my job at the Pomona branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court as an official court reporter. For 14 wonderful months during that time, I had a special assignment in downtown Los Angeles as the acting managing court reporter.

I say “wonderful,” because I commuted during that time by Metrolink—which is Los Angeles’ commuter train system, the equivalent to BART—and then by the Red Line, which is part of Los Angeles’ light-rail system. The trip, one-way, was 73 miles.

When I was asked to come downtown, I resisted. I didn’t want to join the sea of cars being slowly propelled westward in the morning and eastward in the evening, using up my valuable free time in traffic—the drive time was sometimes as much as three hours. And that was each way.

One morning, I read in the paper that Metrolink and the light rail were giving free rides on a Saturday and Sunday, in an effort to increase ridership and introduce car-bound commuters to the joys of steering-wheel-free commuting. A friend and I tried it, going first to the beautifully restored Union Station and then by light rail to Hollywood for a movie and lunch.

I probably never would have tried the train and light rail at all, had it not been free, and, as happens with the domino effect, I would not have accepted the assignment in Los Angeles. But I did.

I loved it. I was a fan. After that free introduction, I became a paying customer. I took it to work, to the beach on the weekends (no problems parking!) and to Dodger games. I even convinced others to try it.

So, why do I tell you all this? Because I think the same thing would work here in Sacramento. If there were a day every so often when anybody could take the light rail without paying, it could increase the paying ridership significantly. Potential riders would have a chance to experiment with mass transit without undue stress or cost.

The regional transit authority should give consideration to occasional “ride for free” days. Once people become aware of how convenient the mass-transit system is, they’re more likely to use it, thereby reducing time—and resources—wasted in traffic.