Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Sacramento’s public transit may be better than you think

Congresswoman Doris Matsui, center, and Mike Wiley, CEO of Sacramento Regional Transit, right, celebrate the arrival of a train on the new Blue Line extension at Cosumnes River College last August.
Congresswoman Doris Matsui, center, and Mike Wiley, CEO of Sacramento Regional Transit, right, celebrate the arrival of a train on the new Blue Line extension at Cosumnes River College last August. Sacramento Bee file

Everyone, it seems, is dumping on Regional Transit. Trains and stations are dirty, even unsafe. Buses and trains don’t run late enough, and their schedules don’t link up. Fares are too high and are going up again.

Safe to say, RT has more than its share of problems with service and finances.

But in a new detailed study, public transit in Sacramento comes out looking not so terrible.

Sacramento’s overall score – which looks at access to jobs, frequency of service and connectivity – ranks No. 27 out of 68 California cities with a population of more than 100,000, ahead of San Diego and San Jose.

Unsurprisingly, San Francisco – with BART, Muni and a compact grid tailor-made for transit – is at the top. Several other Bay Area and Southern California cities also score well, while some inland cities, where transit service can be scarce, do not.

Put together by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter, the project launched this week is the most extensive collection of data yet on 805 transit systems across America. It measures public transit by access to employment and workers, access to customers and transportation costs, impact on public health and whether it boosts opportunity, as well as quality, including frequency of service and connections to key locations.

It’s a broader way to look at transit systems than just ridership, on-time performance and fare box recovery.

And how officials and residents view Regional Transit could help decide its financial fate, with a half-cent sales tax measure for transportation likely headed to the November ballot.

Last week, the Sacramento Transportation Authority board looked at two financing plans, one that would give 29 percent of the sales tax revenue to RT and other regional transit expansions and operations, another that would set aside only 21 percent. The board couldn’t decide, so it plans to vote Thursday on a compromise endorsed this week by a subcommittee that would aim 26 percent to regional transit systems.

Despite its name, RT is not the only transit system in the Sacramento region. I get a reminder every workday morning when I see all the different commuter buses come into downtown Sacramento – from Elk Grove and Galt, as well as El Dorado, Placer, Yolo and Yuba counties.

I get the politics and desire for local control, but it’s never made much sense to me why we need all these different transit providers. There has to be at least some efficiency and savings from consolidating. Yet even the recession wasn’t enough for officials to seriously discuss mergers.

So it’s worth noting that in this new study, Sacramento suburbs rank much lower – Elk Grove at No. 56 and Roseville at No. 64.

I’d bet a truly regional transit system would score higher and offer better service. Who knows? A pledge to consider actually having one might even help sell voters on the sales tax hike.

By the numbers

Ranking and overall transit score on a 0-10 scale for selected California cities with populations of more than 100,000:

  • 1. San Francisco, 9.59
  • 10. Los Angeles, 8.01
  • 27. Sacramento, 6.39
  • 28. San Jose, 6.36
  • 31. San Diego, 6.15
  • 43. Fresno, 5.31
  • 46. Modesto, 5.28
  • 55. Stockton, 4.70
  • 56. Elk Grove, 4.62
  • 64. Roseville, 3.25

Source: AllTransit

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