Sacramento youths can ride Sac RT buses and light rail for free starting today

Sacramento-area youths can ride Regional Transit for free starting Tuesday under a one-year program that aims to reduce truancy and ease the obstacles some students face in getting to school, sports and jobs.

SacRT made the announcement Tuesday at a news conference at C.K. McClatchy High School. According to a news release from the agency, about 220,000 students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for the RydeFreeRT waiver — including home-schooled, foster and homeless youths.

Seven days a week during all hours of operation, these students can ride the bus, light rail and SmaRt Ride microtransit service, which runs through Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights and Folsom, and other parts of Sacramento County.

The announcement comes about a month after students in Yolo County began to ride the bus for free under an experimental program launched by Yolobus.

Research from 2018 showed that 1 in 4 students from the Sacramento City Unified School District missed at least one day of school because of transportation barriers in the six weeks leading up to the survey, according to SacRT’s news release.

San Juan Unified School District on Tuesday said greater access to public transportation will benefit its students. “Our district is large and the RydeFree RT program eliminates obstacles that many of our students face in getting to and from school and to other enrichment activities, such as sports practices and afterschool programs,” San Juan communication coordinator Raj Rai said in a statement.

“What we’re doing here is filling an important gap,” said Henry Li, SacRT general manager and CEO, in the agency’s news release. “We’re offering universal access all day, every day during regular service hours for all Sacramento area youth that live in or attend school in our service area. It is another way SacRT works to deliver clean, safe, and accessible transportation to all Sacramento residents.”

School districts participating in the program include Center Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Folsom Cordova Unified, Natomas Unified, Robla, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified and Twin Rivers Unified. Partners include Sacramento Public Library, the Sacramento County Office of Education and the cities of Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

“Public transportation is critical to serving the expanding region and having our youth become familiar and comfortable with utilizing public transportation will result in reduced traffic complications and improved air quality into the future,” said Elk Grove Unified spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton.

According to the release, 2019-20 ID cards for students in SacRT’s service area already display a special sticker that allows them to ride for free.

Other youths can receive a RydeFreeRT card at a Sacramento library or at SacRT’s Customer Service and Sales Center at 1225 R St., by the 13th Street Station.

“We’re providing an equitable investment in receiving an education,” said Jay Schenirer, District 5 City Council member and director of the SacRT board, in the release. “By eliminating transportation barriers, we’re increasing chances for more young people to succeed in school, career and life.”

SacRT said it expects youth ridership to increase from 7,500 to 30,000 per month as a result of the program, which is set to run for one year through Sept. 30, 2020.

The city of Sacramento is providing SacRT a subsidy of up to $1 million for the program’s first year, according to previous Bee reporting. Additional funding comes from other cities and school districts in the transit agency’s service area, the release said, and Sutter Health has provided a grant for a ridership study.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.