RT’s historic moment: Can it improve service?

It’s time for Regional Transit’s light-rail line to appeal to broader ridership, transit leaders say.
It’s time for Regional Transit’s light-rail line to appeal to broader ridership, transit leaders say.

Sacramento Regional Transit may be on the cusp of a historic moment if the agency can turn recent business-community criticisms into bus and light-rail improvements, board member Phil Serna said Wednesday.

Speaking after the first meeting of RT’s new system improvement committee, Serna said the agency can use the spotlight to transform the way it does business, and make the light-rail system attractive to “choice” riders, who will use transit only when they’re convinced it would serve them better than using a car. This group likely includes thousands who will give the system a try when the downtown sports and entertainment arena opens next year, and nearby parking may be expensive and hard to find.

At Serna’s request last fall, a group of downtown business leaders reviewed RT’s system and issued a critical report, publicly calling on the agency to improve cleanliness, security and marketing, or risk turning off new riders. The report and follow-up meetings mark the first time since the inception of the original light-rail line in the 1980s that business leaders have formally invested time working with RT on its operations and its path forward.

RT officials say they want to take steps, within budget limits, to improve the entire system, not just downtown stations and service for arena-goers.

“It is an incredible opportunity,” Serna said Wednesday. “If we waste it, shame on us.”

Jay Schenirer, RT board chairman, agreed. “As we begin to come out of the recession ... we look to elevate the quality of (transit) services throughout the region.”

The ad hoc committee will focus over the next year-plus on what appears to be a sweeping agenda, including ways of improving maintenance and the look of bus shelters and light-rail stations. The group also will work on increasing security improvements and the sense of safety on trains and at stations.

Agency officials say they also want to take advantage of new technologies to improve convenience. Business leaders have said the agency should look at modernizing its branding and marketing efforts, and improving its customer communications and service.

The newly formed committee will meet quarterly. In between, some of its members will meet with business leaders in small groups to come up with recommendations. Several riders and community representatives said they, too, want to be part of the process. Serna, committee chairman, said he welcomed that, but he did not assign any new committee seats.

The ambitious effort must be realistic, Serna and others say. RT’s budget remains tight. The agency may have to re-prioritize its spending. But it also can improve its efforts to increase revenue by reducing fare evasion, several business leaders have said.

County transportation officials have begun talking about asking voters as early as next year for a half-cent, 30-year transportation sales tax measure, which, if passed, would include more funding for RT.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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