An invitation to ride Sacramento’s ‘new’ RT

Henry Li
Henry Li

Eighteen months ago, I assumed the role as chairman of Regional Transit with the goal of revitalizing the organization. The future opening of Golden 1 Center necessitated and provided a catalyst for a systemwide reform initiative focusing on “clean, safe and convenient.”

These are basic goals for any transportation system, but RT had drifted away from ensuring these fundamental standards were upheld. It was no small task, and many of the changes that needed to happen were related to systems and employee culture.

The good news is, a “new” RT is emerging. We are moving quickly toward a system that people will want to ride, with the potential to play a central role in the successful economic development of our region.

When I assumed the chairmanship, I spent a great deal of time talking to more than half of RT’s nearly 1,000 employees. What I heard was a continuum of frustration to outright anger – folks not feeling that they were being given the tools and resources to be successful. What I also found was a deep desire for the organization to return to success. It was this desire that led me to believe that a turnaround was achievable, given three factors: leadership, culture and resources.

With the former general manager retiring, there was an opportunity to bring in new leadership. The hiring process included labor, business and community representation. Henry Li was selected; he had helped drive turnarounds in two other transit districts.

Li brought a new sense of urgency and a willingness to dig in to some of the more deeply engrained challenges. Within weeks, and using funds from the elimination of management positions, RT had hired 25 transit officers to check tickets and provide a greater sense of security and safety for our customers. He also hired 16 additional individuals to ensure that our trains and buses are cleaned every day. I now receive emails from riders noting the cleaner and safer trains.

Li’s work ethic has been infectious, and his high expectations have focused the entire management team on systemwide improvement. The team is working hard to not only be ready for the Oct. 4 opening of Golden 1 Center, but the pride it is taking in its work and in RT is translating to real improvements in operations. The culture is beginning to change at all levels, and while it will no doubt require additional time and effort, the momentum is in the right direction.

Energized leadership and a culture of success will sustain the positive momentum. However, long-term success will require additional resources, and while there are no silver bullets, RT is moving down four paths to increase resources.

The first is to look for efficiencies in current spending, working with our employee groups while improving the customer experience.

Second, RT is looking in previously unexplored areas for one-time and ongoing revenues. This includes new advertising on light-rail vehicles and stations, money-saving partnerships that also may improve service, and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

Third, we are hopeful about pending state legislation and the passage of Measure B in November, each of which could bring millions to the system.

Finally, and most important, RT must increase its ridership. RT must be a transportation system for the entire region, especially for riders who choose to use public transit. RT must become a trusted and desired transportation system.

Six months ago, I would not have invited potential riders to try RT for fear that they would simply not return. Today, I am excited to issue the invitation, and am sponsoring the first 1,000 new riders with a free day pass on RT. I have renewed confidence in the leadership and the organization, and the quality of the service. If you’d like to give it a try, send me an email at and we will get you a pass.

Jay Schenirer, chairman of the Regional Transit Board of Directors, is the Sacramento City Council member for District 5.