Here comes the bus

Jeff vonKaenel

At a packed, overflowing breakfast at the Sheraton Grand a few weeks ago, Regional Transit general manager Mike “Transit” Wiley presented a bold vision for the future of public transportation in Sacramento.

He started off by explaining that 2008 was a bizarre year for the good folks of RT. They had experienced record numbers of people taking busses and light rail (particularly after gas prices surged), an increase in fare revenue and a significant reduction of cost-per-passenger expenses.

Combined with the renewed focus on public transit brought by the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, you’d think things would be looking up for RT and public transportation, right? After all, ridership is up, costs are down and economic benefits are soaring. What a great time to make a substantial investment in RT.

Apparently, the state disagrees. Because of the economic downturn, it cut $22.2 million in transit funding, forcing RT to increase fees and cut back services.

Amid these strange, contradictory times, RT and Mike Wiley have developed a new plan for RT. TransitAction informs the vision of a new master plan that shifts the previous goal of providing “lifeline services for transit-dependent members of the community” to ensuring public transportation becomes “a lifestyle choice for a greater proportion of the community” as we move toward a smart-growth future.

According to RT’s Web site, achieving this goal depends upon establishing fast and frequent journey times; safe, reliable and clean services; affordable fares and simple ticketing systems; comprehensive accessibility; and convenient transfers (if necessary).

The plan, as outlined in Wiley’s speech at the breakfast, calls for a “sixfold increase” in ridership and a 300 to 400 percent increase in all transit service, both bus and rail. That would dramatically change the transportation foundation in Sacramento, leading to an enormous reduction in air pollution as well.

As American Planning Association reports, transportation is the second largest and the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. Regional Transit, on the whole, reduces travel and congestion on roadways as well as supports efficient land-use patterns—a powerful tool for communities looking to reduce their GHG emissions.

The RT plan also touched on the need for creating more walkable living spaces, citing the example of the Globe Mills development project, which restored a former feed and flour mill to a mixed-use transit-oriented development, situated close to the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light-rail station. The APA notes that coordinated transportation and land-use planning—like the Globe Mills development—can result in “compact, efficient cities that are easier to serve with nonautomobile transportation modes.”

The breakfast’s keynote speaker, land-use strategist and developer Christopher Leinberger, stressed these growing market trends in his speech, citing Sacramento as a leader throughout the country. All eyes are on us.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.