When U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in town last week, there was a lot of hopeful talk about the expansion of Regional Transit's light rail to the airport sometime in the distant future. To its credit, the airport's new $1 billion Terminal B has been designed to interface with light rail if and when it ever arrives, probably in a decade or more from now.
But, if mass transit to the airport makes sense sometime in the distant future, why not better bus service today?
A cab ride from Sacramento International Airport to downtown costs $33. Sacramento County supervisors are close to cutting a deal with a taxi association that could reduce round-trip costs for airport-to-downtown customers. But a cab ride to Sacramento International still remains prohibitively expensive for most travelers. An airport shuttle to downtown costs $13 one way, and return service from the airport is often fraught with delays. Depending on which lot they choose, airport patrons who park overnight pay between $10 and $31 a day.
By far, the cheapest ways to the airport, the least polluting and the ones that contribute least to congestion along crowded I-5 are Yolobus routes 42A and 42B. Unfortunately, service is infrequent.
Yolobus runs hourly intercity service from downtown Sacramento to the airport for just $2 only $1 for seniors over 62 and kids under 18.
The two buses make a loop. One starts in downtown Sacramento and goes to the airport, then Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento and back downtown. The other goes counterclockwise, from the airport to downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis, Woodland and back to the airport.
The hour wait time for buses between the airport and downtown and downtown to the airport could be cut in half if Regional Transit coordinated with Yolobus to run alternating hourly service from downtown to the airport as well. But it doesn't.
Regional Transit's General Manager Mike Wiley says it has been studied extensively and that it just doesn't pencil out. The airport is at the northern extreme of RT's territory, past a lot of empty land. There is much greater demand elsewhere in RT's service area and limited resources.
Airport service works for Yolobus because it had buses traveling along the I-5 corridor past the airport daily anyway. A short detour into the airport to pick up about 5,200 additional riders per month makes cost-effective sense. The vast majority of Route 42 riders, 46,000 a month on average, are traveling to other destinations along the route Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento and downtown but their patronage helps support the airport service.
But if bus service from Sacramento to the airport were more frequent, more people would use it and it could be more cost-effective.
Sacramento International Airport is a major regional transportation asset. It serves about 10 million passengers a year. Surely, that's a big enough customer base to warrant more frequent bus service.
Although the airport makes a lot of money off parking, leaving it little incentive to improve transit, county supervisors should be looking out for the needs of all airport passengers. They should get together with airport managers, Regional Transit and Yolobus and see if there is some way to improve bus service to the airport.