Transportation

Sacramento sports teams try to ‘fix’ transit ahead of downtown arena opening

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Sacramento Councilman Larry Carr and light-rail passengers discuss the safety of the transit system.
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Sacramento Councilman Larry Carr and light-rail passengers discuss the safety of the transit system.

Saying the time is now for better transit, Sacramento’s professional soccer and basketball teams have launched a social media campaign called “Fix My Ride 916” to help and politely push the Sacramento Regional Transit District to improve its service, image and relationship with the public.

Sacramento Republic FC and Sacramento Kings officials say the campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will give riders and nonriders a forum to post comments, questions, gripes, ideas, photos and videos – and a chance for RT to respond.

The two tech-savvy sports teams, known for burnishing their brands via social media, are among the business and downtown leaders wanting to see a stronger transit system by October 2016, when a downtown arena is scheduled to open. Thousands of fans and concertgoers are likely to take rail and buses to events at the arena, many for the first time, and could become regular users if the experience is positive.

“We wanted something that was action-oriented,” Republic spokeswoman Erika Bjork said of the choice of the word “fix” in its name. The Republic and the Kings have young, entrepreneurial staffers, some of whom don’t own cars. They and their fans want more varied transportation options, she said. “This is about making the best possible transit system.”

Regional Transit officials said they are on board with the Fix My Ride effort, and plan to sync it with their internal improvement efforts. “I think it is a great thing they are doing,” agency General Manager Mike Wiley said. “I appreciate them stepping out and supporting us this way.”

Regional Transit, the largest mass transportation agency in the region, runs buses throughout Sacramento County and operates the county’s light rail system. RT will expand that system Monday when it opens a 4.3-mile Blue Line extension to Cosumnes River College just north of Elk Grove. Despite crowded freeways and tight downtown parking, the transit agency has run a bare-bones operation for decades and only transports a fraction of the region’s commuters.

The Fix My Ride effort is part of a larger push by business leaders for RT to be more creative in finding ways to improve, including increasing security, maintenance efforts and customer service. The group, which includes downtown developers and Kings and Republic representatives, wrote a public letter earlier this year suggesting ways the agency can improve. The group has been in discussions since then with RT. One member, downtown developer David Taylor, said he was remiss not to have offered RT help years earlier.

Kings President Chris Granger noted in an email to The Bee that transit will be important to the Kings when the team makes its move from Sleep Train Arena in North Natomas to downtown. The Golden 1 Center arena, currently under construction, sits at a transit nexus “with five light rail stations within walking distance, as well as multiple bus stops and the nearby Sacramento Valley Station.”

“The Kings support public transit and believe @FixMyRide916 will promote ridership and help identify areas for improvement prior to the arena opening,” Granger said.

Regional Transit police say they have a 46 percent arrest rate for crimes on light rail, thanks to surveillance cameras.

Soccer advocates also have become interested in transit as they ramp up efforts to build a soccer stadium in the downtown railyard next to a planned light rail station. More than 4,000 fans took light rail last year when the Republic played an exhibition match at Sacramento City College, and a team survey found that 40 percent of ticket holders would prefer to go to matches on transit, bike or foot, rather than car.

RT’s Wiley said he has directed staff members to interact on social media under the Fix My Ride banner. Wiley and RT officials have reached out to customers in recent years. Wiley rides the system frequently to talk with customers and has conducted monthly online Q&A sessions.

Pushed by activist RT board members Phil Serna, Jay Schenirer and Steve Hansen, the agency also has begun instituting internal reforms, including an ongoing analysis of ways it can cut costs and increase revenues to help pay for more maintenance, security and service.

Schenirer said he believes the agency is on the rebound. Recent or upcoming changes include a focus on security – improving light rail station cameras, adding a public address system at stations, giving station security guards more duties and placing police officers and sheriff’s deputies aboard more trains. RT security chief Norm Leong, a Sacramento city police captain, said the agency has seen a drop in reported crime on light rail trains and at stations – 39 thefts and robberies so far this year.

The agency plans to offer riders a smartphone app that will allow them to text RT about issues or ideas, send photos, and report train or station incidents in real time. The agency does not have a date for release of the app.

RT also is teaming with the city of Elk Grove to create a “Rider Watch” group, similar to a neighborhood watch group, on the Blue Line once those trains begin rolling next week to Cosumnes River College. The program will help riders get to know one another and create a sense of community, officials said. Leong said his officers will meet with those riders and offer them safety tips.

Fix My Ride had a soft launch last week with minimal publicity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Republic FC spokeswoman Bjork said the project will get a bigger push next week, after RT opens its Blue Line extension.

Schenirer said the Fix My Ride effort could lead to some blunt and critical commentary, but that RT is up for it. “It’s important to have an independent voice in this. I want to think that RT is about continuous improvement. That requires being open to the public.”

Ultimately, RT can use the public platforms to trumpet its improvements, he and Wiley said.

Although the effort has not been widely publicized, residents already are chiming in on Facebook. One person asked why light rail isn’t built as a subway. Another asked why there isn’t a line to the airport. The Fix My Ride staff answered those questions and posed one: “What else do you think could be done to make RT the best transit choice?”

Sacramento Councilman Larry Carr and light-rail passengers discuss the safety of the transit system.

Fix My Ride 916

  • On Facebook at Fix My Ride 916
  • On Twitter at @fixmyride916
  • On Instagram at @fixmyride916
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