Turning the wheel

Fares lowered after yet another ridership decline

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the November 21, 2018, issue.

Sacramento Regional Transit discussed ways to boost declining ridership, at a time when the destabilizing effects of climate change were visible to anyone walking outside.

On November 13, five days after the historically destructive Camp Fire exploded across Butte County and swamped the valley in toxic smoke, SacRT staff hosted a community meeting to discuss revamping bus networks that hadn’t been redesigned in 30 years, said SacRT General Manager Henry Li. The two options presented last week—one focused on high ridership and frequency, the other on a high coverage area—will likely see some merging.

Michelle Poyourow, a contracted transit consultant for SacRT, recommended longer bus routes to increase ridership and touched on the importance of higher ridership in meeting statewide greenhouse gas emission goals. In September, Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 100, which puts California on the path to 100 percent fossil-fuel free electricity by 2045.

“We get carbon emission reductions when we shift people from driving cars to something else,” Poyourow said at the meeting. “The number of people who’re using your transit system is what governs how much emissions you get.”

The proposals come as SacRT links up with its sprawling suburban neighbors. On November 13, the Folsom City Council decided to place Folsom Stage Line, the city’s local bus service, under the agency’s umbrella. After originally debuting in Citrus Heights, SacRT’s SmaRT Ride, an on-demand microtransit service, has expanded into Antelope, Orangevale and South Sacramento. Meanwhile, Uber-owned Jump bikes, which nearly doubled its coverage area in Sacramento in early November, has helped connect people to the bus and light-rail system, said SacRT spokeswoman Devra Selenis.

“[Jump bikes] have served as a first-mile, last-mile solution,” Selenis said. “You can get from your home to a light-rail or bus stop or get downtown and then ride a Jump bike around.”

Over the coming weeks, the city of Sacramento will consider an ordinance aimed at increasing ridership by incentivizing development near light-rail stations. The proposed ordinance comes as SacRT ridership for September fell by 7.6 percent compared to September 2017. SacRT cut bus and light-rail fares for the first time in its history starting October 1.