Sacramento, Elk Grove to launch ‘Rider Watch’ program on new light-rail line

Video: 'Rider Watch' Planned For New Light Rail Line

An experimental program for Elk Grove commuters is similar to police Neighborhood Watch programs. Video by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee.
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An experimental program for Elk Grove commuters is similar to police Neighborhood Watch programs. Video by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee.

In hopes of encouraging reluctant south county commuters to try the new light-rail line to downtown, transit officials say they plan to launch an experimental “Rider Watch” program on the trains, similar to a neighborhood crime watch.

The program, co-sponsored by Elk Grove and Sacramento Regional Transit, will help riders create a sense of community on trains, to and from work. RT officials say they will share ways of communicating with transit police and guards about a specific incident or about ongoing issues. Transit officers also will periodically conduct onboard talks with riders, offering tips on safe riding.

“The idea is to work with them to give them information on safety and give them a conduit to be able to speak to us directly on issues,” said Regional Transit security head Norm Leong, a Sacramento city police captain. “In turn, we will talk to them about safety tips.”

Many of the new south county riders are expected to be state workers who will take the trains from the Cosumnes River College, Center Parkway and Franklin Boulevard stations. Those three stations will open Monday, Aug. 24, as part of a 4.3-mile extension of the existing RT light-rail Blue Line.

“We wanted to do something to make it easier for folks to feel comfortable on light rail,” said Jean Foletta, head of Elk Grove’s e-tran bus service. “The best way to explain it is like a neighborhood watch on the light-rail train.”

RT officials say their transit agency is planning to add a cellphone app that will allow all riders two-way, real-time communication via cellphones with RT police.

Foletta said Elk Grove expects to launch a page Aug. 24 on the city website where riders can sign up and get details about the watch program.

Foletta and Leong said they decided to try the program after hundreds of current e-tran commuter bus riders signed petitions refusing to ride light rail. Many of the signers said they feel the light-rail system is unsafe and unclean.

Elk Grove officials had initially planned to eliminate almost all of their daily freeway commuter express buses this fall and redirect those buses to drop riders off at the Cosumnes River College and other new stations.

Complaints from e-tran riders prompted the Elk Grove City Council to back off that idea and keep running its fleet of express buses into downtown Sacramento. Some local buses will, however, drop riders off at Cosumnes River College. One of them, Route 156, will run on 15-minute intervals starting Sept. 13.

Elk Grove officials say they will watch to see what happens with ridership on buses after the rail extension opens, and say they expect to see some opposition disappear over time.

“Once it gets here and people start talking about light rail, I think we will see people shift from e-tran to light rail,” Foletta said. “How many, I don’t know.”

The Cosumnes River College station includes a multilevel garage, which will allow south county commuters to park their cars.

Leong said RT would consider expanding the Rider Watch program to the rest of the RT light-rail system if it proves to be successful in Elk Grove.

A group of downtown Sacramento business leaders criticized RT earlier this year, saying the agency’s downtown stations were unclean and that the agency doesn’t do enough to give riders a sense that they are safe aboard trains.

RT officials have contended that crime on light rail is not as bad as nonriders perceive it to be, especially during daytime commute hours when many trains are populated with workers headed to and from downtown.

The agency’s board of directors, however, has embarked on an effort to transform operations in hopes of increasing ridership on the new Blue Line extension and encouraging people to use the system to get to events at the downtown Sacramento arena when it opens next fall.

That effort is still in its early stages. RT security chief Leong said it includes work underway to improve station cameras, and to add a loudspeaker system at stations.

An experimental program for Elk Grove commuters is similar to police Neighborhood Watch programs. Video by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee.