SacRT was named the 2021 Outstanding Public Transportation System of the Year by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) earlier this year.
The agency provides public transportation in Sacramento, and it is one of the largest microtransit providers in the country.
“This award and recognition is truly humbling,” said Henry Li, GM and CEO for SacRT. “It belongs to SacRT’s 1,300 employees who have transformed this agency and an extraordinary Board of Directors, that have paved the way for SacRT to better serve for the Sacramento region. The award is a culmination of hard work and determination, that have led to SacRT’s historic turnaround over these last five years. Through innovative initiatives, fiscal discipline and putting customers first, we are truly proud of what we have accomplished.”
Li also discusses the initiatives that launched between 2018 and 2020 that led to the award. The intitivates include ridership, lowering fares, and more.
SacRT has been able to prevent ridership decline through several initiatives dating back to 2018.
“In 2018 we lowered fares for the first time in agency history, launched the nation’s largest microtransit service SmaRT Ride, and expanded late night service on light rail,” Li said. “In 2019, we implemented a comprehensive redesign of our bus network and became the first transit agency in the nation to implement an unrestricted fare-free program for youth in grades K through 12th system-wide.”
SacRT launched the nation’s largest microtransit service SmaRT Ride in 2018. The service was a pilot to improve a dial-a-ride program in the city of Citrus Heights with a more flexible shuttle service. It allows riders to hail a vehicle directly from their smartphone.
Then, Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA) Board awarded the agency $12.5 million in funding. SacRT expanded the SmaRT Ride service to focus on the region’s disadvantaged communities. The funding has now been extended through June 23.
“These initiatives have helped our community meet its equity and inclusive goals while assisting with resiliency efforts as we recover from the pandemic,” Li said. “These initiatives also demonstrate the value SacRT brings to our diverse communities.”
Another program was implemented with the rider’s safety in mind. According to Li, SacRT received feedback in 2015 from riders that they did not feel secure riding its system. The agency responded with its Safe, Clean and Convenient program.
“We doubled our cleaning staff, installed more than 1,000 live-feed cameras throughout our system that are monitored through the Security Operations Center 24/7, and we increased the number of transit ambassadors aboard our trains who prioritize customer service,” Li said. The feedback we received from riders who had not used the system in a few years, was terrific. “We have heard how our system is clean and safe, and how riders appreciate the more robust bus network and convenient services.”
SacRT also experienced ridership gains through rebuilding relationships with community partners and stakeholders.
“In October and November 2020, we partnered with NBA’s Sacramento Kings and County of Sacramento to provide free rides to anyone needing to travel to a vote center or ballot box location,” Li said.
The agency has also provided free rides to any person needing assistance getting to a COVID-19 vaccination location and launched California’s first contactless payment solution onboard a light rail train.
Lowering fares, expanding service and route optimization
SacRT saw its first general fare reduction in 2018 after a meeting with the board of directors.
The basic single ride decreased by 25 cents from $2.75 to $2.50, and the discount single ride decreased by 10 cents from $1.35 to $1.25.
The basic monthly pass decreased by $10 from $110 to $100, the discount monthly pass went from from $55 to $50, the paratransit single ride decreased by 50 cents, and the super senior fare decreased by $2 from $42 to $40.
The agency would go on the redesign its bus network that featured a seven-day-a-week service, more late night and weekend service and more frequent service.
“In 2019, we implemented a comprehensive redesign of our bus network and became the first transit agency in the nation to implement an unrestricted fare-free program for youth in grades K through 12th system-wide,” Li said.
SacRT’s new bus system, SacRT Forward, called for more user-friendly and more direct routes. The network consisted of seven regular routes and 15 peak hour-only routes.
“These initiatives have helped our community meet its equity and inclusive goals while assisting with resiliency efforts as we recover from the pandemic,” Li said.
Bringing other cities back into the fold
The agency continues to build around the community.
SacRT has added the transit services of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, and Folsom into its network.
“By joining forces, we will better connect the region and provide for more seamless travel throughout our service area,” Li said. “Some benefits from these agreements are that we eliminate ADA paratransit transfers, better compete as a region for grants and funding, improved route planning and connections and economies of scale for efficiencies.”
The agreement with Elk Grove meant that SacRT will provide fixed-route local, commuter, paratransit services, and maintenance operations.
In 2018, the city of Folsom joined SacRT, and it helped double tracking on the Gold Line, a project to increase light rail service frequency to 15 minutes to Folsom stations.
“These agreements speak volume to how we have regained the trust of the community by focusing on Safe, Clean and Convenient service,” Li said.