Precious cargo – snapshots of the light rail culture

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Dubbed the "Emerald City" by Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento is known as one of the most diverse metropolitan cities in Northern California, fostering an estimated population of 472,178, according to the latest Census data recorded in April 2010.

Much like the capitol’s reputation to host diversity, in terms of culture, as does our Regional Transit Light Rail system, carrying diverse subcultures as its precious cargo.

I ride Light Rail Monday-Friday. I use to drive to work everyday from Marysville until my car blew out from commuting.


I ride the light rail to get home and to go to school. I go to Sac City. It’s cool because lot of people different people ride.


I ride the light rail five days a week. Its convenient, it saves gas and its a good look at what you can expect from the city.

Currently, RT Light Rail offers three service lines that travel across the greater Sacramento region. The Gold Line, which services travelers between downtown and historic Folsom, the Blue Line, which services between Watt/I-80 to Meadowview and the more recently implemented Green Line, servicing travelers of the River District.

Routes for the Gold, Blue and Green Regional Transit Light Rail service lines

According to Regional Transit 2011 Key Performance Report for Fiscal Year 2012, for the month of November 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, light rail ridership increased by 19.4 percent. The 2012 Key Performance Report for Fiscal Year 2013 – the most recent report – shows an increase in ridership of 3.7 percent for the month of December 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. 

What this data tells us is that RT Light Rail has seen consecutive increases in ridership over the last three years.

"Ridership is tied directly to the economy. As unemployment rises, ridership tends to decrease; in turn, as our economy improves, ridership increases," said Regional Transit General Manager and CEO, Mike Wiley.

“When we experience financial difficulties, we are forced to reduce services," Wiley said. "We bottomed out near 2010. However, since then we have shown improvement. In June 2010 we expanded our services by adding a new light rail route, the Green Line for the River District and in September 2012 we recorded an 8 percent service improvement." 

As the economy fluctuates, more residents are choosing to use RT services, specifically the light rail, resulting in a melting pot of culture as commuters find their way around rising tuition costs, gas hikes and cut-backs in state funding.

Garry Collier, 58, is an avid light rail commuter. A retiree, he struggles with chronic health issues, which prevents him from driving. He explains that he rides the light rail to travel to doctor and county services appointments.

Collier continued to explain that the light rail brings all walks of life, ages, races and class levels together with a common goal.

“I have been riding the light rail for years and in that time I have seen a lot on the light rail," Collier said. "People smoking dope, violence, but usually just people rushing to work. It’s crazy because we are all here because we need transportation." 

Transit Officer Rico Rivera, 53, has been working for RT for nearly 10 years. He first became employed by RT as a bus driver, then a service worker and now a transit officer. He explained that he had a previous background in law enforcement and enjoys working with people and the light rail offered that. 

“I have been a transit officer for Regional Transit for the last eight years and before that, I was a service worker for about a year and a half; I love working with people," Rivera said. "In the mornings on the light rail that’s what I would see – a lot of commuters, people going to work, open conversations and sometimes music – and that’s how I knew this was the job for me.” 

Other factors that may have played a role in the increase of ridership and thus the wide variety of culture using the light rail today is non-riders being forced to use public transportation; stamping out the perception that riding the light rail is unsafe. The light rail not only provides transit officers to oversee rider conduct, but there are also video cameras on each rail cart and the Sacramento Police Department is on site at most light rail locations.

RT Light Rail is arguably one of the fastest sources of public transportation. Furthermore it is convenient, reliable and cost efficient. Short of the luxury of riding in your very own town car intact with a chauffeur, RT Light Rail is arguably one of the fastest sources of local public transportation in Sacramento. Furthermore it is convenient, reliable and cost efficient. 

"The system reflects the cultural diversity of Sacramento," Wiley said. "It was designed to be accessible to the entire community and we strive to provide universal accessibility." 

A reminder that the pulse of the Emerald City as the most diverse city in Northern California lies in the belly of gold and royal blue electric rail carts.

Editor’s note: Join The Sacramento Press on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Chops Steakhouse to honor Journalism Open winners. Get tickets!

  • Brian Lambert

    looking forward to the airport run. When is that?

    • talecia bell

      sounds like an even more interesting subculture. We’ll call it, “Jet Setters.” Look forward to this in the coming week. Btw, thanks for commenting.

  • where is that dude who tried to sell me stolen batteries on the gold line the other day?

    • talecia bell

      The Gold line was one of the more highly used lines. However, I find that most people are riding the Blue line. The Green line was a single cart rail cart, so you can image it’s ridership compared to the more frequently used lines.

  • Ed Murrieta

    The Blue Line can resemble, and smell like, a rolling drug deal.

    • talecia bell

      This is true in some cases. In my experience, it was more the people at the stations. sometimes you’ll get off the rail and you can smell the marijuana in the air. At other stops urine and others the smell of exhaust. I think that’s the beauty of the commuter community.

    • That would be the “beauty” of the NON-commuter community. Those people aren’t working, at least not a normal commuter job. Those of us who actually do commute with the trolley are fortunate to avoid that in the morning, but the afternoon and evening are something else.

      On my rail commute home (or back to where I park) the other day, there was a woman who appeared fairly attractive behind the seat I wanted to sit in. However, the seat in front of her was filled with trash, so I chose another seat. Later, some guy who looked like Manson Family member Steve “Clem” Grogan got on and sat in that seat and began talking to that “attractive” woman who began to talk about methadone and her love of alcohol. I actually looked over at her for a second and was quite impressed by her “picket fence” teeth and sexy coal-miner drawl.

      As for poverty, virtually everyone who got on the train had a “smart” cell phone, nicer than mine. Most of the riders were using them, and speaking at loud volume, dropping f-bombs all the way. My favorite person was a female passenger who sat in front of me and asked the person on the other end of her call if she would pick her up at the Church’s Chicken, because she was her “favorite bitC#. She also began singing Pop and Gospel songs into her cellphone. When her scalp itched, she initially began to scratch, but switched to pounding her skull with her fist as the itching persisted.

      I pay a monthly pass for this experience. It can be more fun than the movies, except when it is like a horror movie. This particular ride was a combination of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Dolemite.” Seeing the homeless sleeping on concrete benches at the LRT stations and the gangbangers around the Arden/Del Paso station only enforces my vision of what LRT represents, as well as what many of our elected leaders appear to want for our country’s future.

  • William Burg

    I grew up riding Light Rail and RT buses. In high school I didn’t have a car, but a bus hop and a ride on the then brand-new RT Metro (now the Blue Line) was an interesting ride to the big city. And like any big-city transit line, it has its share of problems (my San Francisco friends all have plenty of Muni horror stories.) I still ride light rail a few times a week.

    The Green Line works more like a streetcar, as its route is only a mile, and like the traditional streetcar systems built by real estate companies a century ago, was started ahead of anticipated demand. As more new offices (and, hopefully, lots of residences) go up in the River District/Richards Boulevard area, we’ll see those Green Line trains get busier. As to when the line to the airport will be completed, don’t hold your breath.

    • talecia bell

      I agree. I too am a Sacramento native and have watched residency outgrow transportation capacity – hence the additions to the RT bus & light rail system, Grey Hound, AmTraks and the highly controversial high speed rail system. And those systems will also yield its share of Muni horror stories.

    • William Burg

      I’m not a Sacramento native, so you have the advantage on me there. We still have a long way to go before we get back to the kind of transportation network we had in 1940!

  • Jason Miller

    I have been riding Light Rail since I was a baby because my parents did not own a car for the first half of my life and everybody who has rode it for years always has a story to be told. The blue line is usually the most packed and the it’s a nice view riding up to Folsom on the Gold Line.