Students deserve a cheaper ride on Regional Transit buses and trains

Kayla Argueta, a McClatchy High student, talks with friends before boarding a RT light rail train on Dec. 7.
Kayla Argueta, a McClatchy High student, talks with friends before boarding a RT light rail train on Dec. 7. Sacramento Bee

Sacramento Regional Transit, struggling to rebuild ridership after fare hikes and service cuts during the Great Recession, ought to jump at any chance to stop the bleeding.

Here’s a relatively easy one: The RT board should vote Monday to significantly slash the cost of student passes.

Under the proposal, passes for K-12 students would drop from $55 to $20 a month and for low-income students from $30 to $20, The Bee’s Tony Bizjak reports. This would help many families who need a low-cost way to school since Sacramento City Unified School District doesn’t provide transportation for middle- and high-school students.

If approved, the price cut would take effect Jan. 1 and would be tested for six months. It is projected to lower revenues by $100,000, less if more students buy passes. If ridership increases enough, the board would consider making the change permanent.

Overall RT ridership has plummeted from a peak of 35 million in 2009 to 22 million this year. The decline in student riders has been even worse, from 6 million in 2004 to 1.5 million this year,

That isn’t surprising since the price of the youth pass has tripled since 2004, even as bus service has been reduced. In addition, RT youth passes cost more than in other California cities; they are $38 in San Francisco and $40 in Stockton, for example. Yolobus should also consider lowering the price of its monthly youth pass, $46.75 a month.

College students already get discounted fares on Regional Transit through its contracts with Sacramento State and local community colleges. If a shuttle bus between UC Davis and Sacramento starts up, as Mayor Darrell Steinberg is promoting, students should get a break.

Besides helping students who rely on RT, the lower fares are also smart for RT’s future. They will encourage young people to get in the habit of using mass transit for when they join the workforce.

And these students will soon be eligible to vote, and Sacramento County voters will almost certainly be asked again in the next few years to raise the sales tax to fund transit and road repairs. A ballot measure to do that narrowly failed in November 2016, falling about 8,000 votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

That defeat was a huge blow to RT, which wants more money to improve service, including doubling the size of the bus fleet for a new and more convenient route system.

RT’s bus routes haven’t been significantly updated for three decades, even with all the housing and commercial development that has changed commuting patterns. Also on Monday’s board agenda is a contract for a year-long “route optimization” study that would start in January.

And without more cash, RT will never reach its long-term goal of free rides for K-12 students. In the meantime, however, lowering the cost of youth passes is a good start, one that RT can afford.

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