Elk Grove to leave bus service unchanged; proposed light-rail plan unpopular

Riders board e-tran, a bus dedicated for riders from Elk Grove, at Seventh Street and the K Street Mall.
Riders board e-tran, a bus dedicated for riders from Elk Grove, at Seventh Street and the K Street Mall. Sacramento Bee file

Faced with intense opposition from residents, Elk Grove has backed off a proposed plan to scrap its direct bus service to downtown Sacramento and instead give commuters a lift to light rail.

Elk Grove City Council members Wednesday evening opted to maintain the city’s e-tran bus service, while reserving the possibility of future bus line cuts once Sacramento Regional Transit opens its 4.3-mile Blue Line extension in September. The line will end at Cosumnes River College.

Cutting bus service would have saved the city $434,432, according to city staff.

Elk Grove residents were vocal in their opposition to scuttling direct bus service. More than 450 people filed public comments in response to the proposed change – with 98 percent saying that would not consider taking light rail for their commute.

On Wednesday evening, the council heard from nine residents who opposed the change. They cited concerns about crime on trains and the time that taking the train would add to their commutes.

Resident Jonathan Meltzer attended Wednesday’s meeting to weigh in on behalf of his adult daughter, who rides the e-tran bus into Sacramento. “I would not let my adult daughter ride light rail,” he said. “There is a question about security at stations. There have been far too many incidents on light rail where people have been hassled or lost possessions.”

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said light rail needs to make changes to appeal to Elk Grove bus riders. “Light rail needs to get their house in order around ensuring that it is clean, safe and secure,” Davis said. “We’ll be ready to ride light rail when that happens.”

RT has weathered similar criticism recently from downtown Sacramento business leaders concerned about attracting Kings fans to ride the train to the arena under construction downtown. Transit agency officials have begun a yearlong series of meetings with business leaders on ways to make transit more attractive.

RT spokeswoman Alane Masui said Thursday that the agency has added $900,000 to its budget for next year to address security issues. But she argued that the real issue in Elk Grove has little to do with safety.

“The issue is not RT getting its house in order; the issue is about convenience for Elk Grove residents,” said Masui. “I can understand why Elk Grove commuters are vocal about keeping their one-seat ride to Sacramento.”

Commuters cited time as another reason for their opposition.

Elk Grove resident Mark Doty, who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, said the idea of taking a bus to light rail for his commute to his office on Richards Boulevard was a “deal killer.”

“I’m not opposed to light rail, per se,” Doty said. “But driving to the bus, waiting for the bus and then riding the bus 2 or 3 miles and then waiting for the train would add 25 minutes to the current commute.”

Doty said he could ride his bike from Elk Grove to downtown in the same time it would take to commute on the bus and then the train – an hour and 20 minutes.

RT officials have said service will be robust on the new Blue Line. Daily trains will run from 5 a.m. to midnight at 15-minute intervals until 7:30 p.m., and every 30 minutes thereafter.

The transit agency said the train from Cosumnes River College to the 16th Street station in downtown Sacramento would take an estimated 28 minutes. From the college to Eighth and K streets, the commute is expected to take 36 minutes.

Some Elk Grove residents have no problem riding the train to work. Eileen Mahoney lives a mile and a half from the soon-to-be-open station at Cosumnes River College. She has been riding light rail for the last 10 years.

“I used to ride e-tran when it started up. I grew unhappy with the number of breakdowns and the sardine-can feel,” she said in an interview. “Plus, if you got on at a later stop you were standing the whole way.”

In the 10 years she has been riding light rail into Sacramento, she said, she has sought the assistance of a train conductor only twice.

“Most of the people on the train are commuters or work for the state or county,” she said. “We all know each other and sit in the same car. My experience has been extremely positive.”

Councilman Davis said he supports light rail and is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether some bus lines can be eliminated once the Cosumnes light-rail station opens.

“The key to the transition occurring – with some bus routes in Elk Grove being scaled back to light rail – is determined on RT getting their act together,” he said.

The $270 million light-rail extension to the college campus has been touted by RT as a benefit to college students and a tool to ease traffic congestion on Interstate 5 and Highway 99.

The area that the Blue Line seeks to serve is one of the fastest growing in Sacramento County. A recent RT study found that it would double in population by 2030 – from 82,400 to 179,100.

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