New buses, seats to help give Sacramento Regional Transit a cleaner look

Sacramento Regional Transit is rolling out new buses with improved accessibility. RT operations chief Mark Lonergan shows one of the buses at the agency’s maintenance facility in north Sacramento. April 3, 2015
Sacramento Regional Transit is rolling out new buses with improved accessibility. RT operations chief Mark Lonergan shows one of the buses at the agency’s maintenance facility in north Sacramento. April 3, 2015 Sacramento Bee photo, Tony Bizjak

Sacramento’s buses and light-rail trains are about to take on a cleaner and, in some cases, artsy new look.

As part of an effort to spruce up its service, accessibility and image, Sacramento Regional Transit today will begin rolling out the first of 96 modern buses with sleeker exterior lines, more interior space for people using wheelchairs and form-fitting seats that will be easier for the agency to keep clean.

The transit agency also has begun eliminating old cloth seats in light-rail trains, replacing them with easier-to-clean vinyl. And RT officials say they hope soon to team with a local arts group to commission artwork for the exteriors of a handful of trains.

The goal, officials say, is to give transit a clean and fresh feel, and make buses more accessible, in hopes of attracting new riders. RT has taken criticism lately from downtown business leaders and some commuters for a lack of cleanliness at stations, a sense of lack of safety on light rail and for not doing enough to increase ridership.

The downtown business group includes the Sacramento Kings basketball team, which will move next year to an arena under construction near light rail at Fifth and K streets, and the Republic FC soccer team, which has hopes for a railyard soccer stadium next to a future light-rail station.

Members of that business group are working this year with a special RT committee on ways the transit agency can position itself to serve new riders when the arena opens. Several RT board members say they want to provide a good experience for those riders but said they also are focused on improving the bus and rail service for riders systemwide.

“We are trying to upgrade RT top to bottom – the moving stock, the stations, the shelters – and improve overall quality of service,” said Jay Schenirer, RT board chairman. The question, with limited funds, he said, is “What do we need to do to increase ridership and have everyone say, ‘This is the way I’d like to get around?’”

The agency struggled financially during the recent recession, cutting service and raising fares, and does not yet have sufficient funding for major upgrades, RT officials said. The agency is looking at ways of working with private businesses to help improve cleanliness and the overall look of bus and rail stops.

RT board member Steve Hansen, in particular, has been pushing the idea of getting local artists to produce artwork for some trains. The artwork would be incorporated into an existing program to freshen the look of trains, many of which are 30 years old with faded paint and exterior scuffing. The art pieces are not expected to cost extra, officials said.

“We’re hoping this inspires our patrons and the public about the ability of RT to be innovative and creative, to think differently about our system and attract new riders,” Hansen said.

About 20 new buses manufactured in San Leandro will be in service by the end of the week, replacing buses that have been in use for a dozen years, RT officials said. The buses run on compressed natural gas. RT will get two more orders of buses later this year.

The $600,000 buses are slightly taller and have a sleeker, European look, said Mark Lonergan, RT operations chief. They will have ergonomically designed hard-shell seats, with minimal padding. Some of those seats will flip up to make more room for wheelchairs and for passengers with carts or large packages.

“The concern with any foam padding is that over the years, it holds stuff that we can’t clean,” Lonergan said. “That is the same reason we’ve moved away from cloth on the light-rail vehicles and are going back to (impermeable) vinyl.”

The buses will have front racks that hold three bikes, compared with the current bus racks that carry two.

“I think this is going to be a great bus,” Lonergan said. “I think the passengers are going to love it. I think the operators are going to love it.”

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

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