Students in the city of Sacramento will be able to ride buses and light rail for free for one year starting this fall under a groundbreaking arrangement between the city and the region’s main transit operator.
The program will allow up to 100,000 students to ride Sacramento Regional Transit any time, including nights and weekends. It will be available to students living in the city or attending any school within the geographic border of the city.
Sacramento is the second city nationally to offer K-12 students free rides yearlong without restrictions following Washington, D.C., said Councilman Jay Schenirer, who promoted the program.
The program is expected to boost school attendance by making it easier for students to get to class. An estimated 16 percent of Sacramento City Unified School District students were chronically absent last year, according to district data, and a lack of transportation was a key reason.
“By providing unlimited access to transit, it will open the door to more opportunities for our youth,” SacRT General Manager Henry Li. said. “This will eliminate obstacles to their success in school and life, and provide for more equitable investments throughout our region.”
The Sacramento City Council agreed Tuesday to fund the program with a $1 million payment to SacRT, to compensate it for lost fares.
Sacramento Regional Transit estimates the program would increase ridership to 40,000 students in its first year, a 600 percent increase. Longterm, SacRT officials said it could increase paid ridership on its system by introducing more new and young riders to buses and light rail now.
Rail security increased
Under Li, the transit agency has made a concerted effort to add more security on trains and at stations, as well as add safety technology.
The free-pass program is available to any student from kindergarten through high school who attends a school within city limits, or who resides in the city and attends a school outside of the city.
“Providing free transit passes will remove the barrier so many families experience trying to get their children to school every day,” said Sacramento County Supervisor and SacRT Board Chair Patrick Kennedy. “This new initiative will provide mobility freedom for our youth to get to school, internships and entertainment destinations.”
SacRT officials last year lowered student fares from $55 per month to $20 per month after seeing youth ridership numbers drop in recent years. Schenirer, also a SacRT board member, said free rides take that effort a step further. “We’re breaking down one of the biggest barriers to creating lifelong transit riders – cost of access.”
Stickers on student IDs
Students from schools inside the city will receive a sticker from their school to put on their school identification card. Students who attend schools outside the city will be asked to get the sticker from SacRT.
The city and SacRT may also arrange to allow students to pick up stickers at libraries, community centers and City Hall.
The October 1 start date for the program will give schools a chance to print new student ID cards this fall with stickers attached.
Students who are homeless or in a foster program also can ride SacRT for free starting in October regardless of where they live or go to school. SacRT officials say they hope to implement similar programs with other local cities.