Precious cargo – snapshots of the light rail culture
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.
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.
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.
Disclosure: On Thursday Jan. 31, 3013, I devoted most of my day to enculturating myself in the RT Light Rail commuter community; traveling between the Gold, Blue and Green service lines, engaging riders to share their experience. Thanks for your help Sacramento!