Transit lessons from Brooklyn to Sacramento with love

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

Getting from point A to point B in Brooklyn, compared to the same process in Sacramento, was a major focus of last month’s Sacramento Metro Chamber Study Mission. This was the 20th year that 100 Sacramento business leaders, government officials and nonprofit executives traveled to another city to gain insights and ideas to bring back to our Capital City.

After each Chamber study mission, I return to Sacramento with a much better perspective on both the problems and opportunities that we face in our region. And we certainly have many transportation problems and opportunities right here in River City.

In addition, on this trip, I had my own personal experiences with the New York transportation system. Before arriving in New York, I had meetings in Washington, D.C., and took the train up to New York’s Penn Central, where I arrived very late Tuesday night. Having luggage and never having been to Brooklyn, I thought a cab would be the safest option. However, when I got to the cab line, the first two cabs refused to take me to the borough. The third cab driver only agreed if I would give up $40 in cash. Off we went. This cab ride from New York to Brooklyn cost roughly the same amount as the train from D.C.

In Brooklyn, the Chamber presented workshops by a transportation futurist, John Martin, as well as a panel of New York City transit users including an ex-Sacramento resident. I learned that younger people think that paying a small fortune to buy, maintain and park a car is stupid. Really stupid. And then the idea that you have to live somewhere that you do not want to live, like a suburb, because it is more convenient for your car, is really lame. The panelists all praised the New York subway system. One of the panelists did not even have a driver’s license.

Besides attending these transportation sessions in Brooklyn, I also had dinner with Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Henry Li and Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, where I received my Sacramento transit update while breaking bread in another city next to a river.

The good news for Sacramento is: Henry Li, who arrived from Jacksonville Florida in early 2016. I am astounded by how much Li has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. In the last two years, RT has dealt with the safety and cleanliness issues that were driving away customers. And RT has gotten its costs under control, recently announcing fare reductions, lower student rates, easier transfers from other area bus lines and SmaRT service for on-demand ride share in certain selected areas. There is now a can-do attitude at RT.

At the end of my trip, I needed to get from our hotel to JFK airport at the beginning of rush hour. According to Google, taking the subway would take about one hour and cost $7.75, or I could take a cab which would take one-and-a-half hours and cost around $60. So, thankful that suitcases have wheels, I made my way several blocks to the subway station. Finding several different subway entrances, I asked a woman which one would take me to the airport. She looked confused, but her 8-year-old companion told me which one would do the trick.

I now know a lot more about getting from point A to point B.