SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — More than 200,000 students can ride on Sacramento public transportation for free, any time of day, anywhere.
It’s a first-of-it’s kind program: fare-free privileges with no barriers.
“I know it can be very difficult for parents or guardians to pay for their kids to take the light rail,” said Malik Ibarra.
Ibarra is a senior at West Campus High School. He spoke about the struggles of having to walk to school for years.
“It would be cold in the wintertime, or the neighborhood I lived in, which was the Fruitridge area, there would be a lot of homeless people coming up me asking me to buy drugs,” said Ibarra.
But now there’s a solution to the struggle.
Regional transit announced, thanks to a $1 million contribution from the city, that all K through 12th-grade students across Sacramento county, even home school students and foster and homeless youth, can now ride the bus or light rail for free.
SacRT’s service area includes the cities of Sacramento, Folsom, Citrus Heights, and Rancho Cordova and parts of Sacramento County. The potential increase in youth ridership stands to grow from 7,500 to 30,000 per month.
“It was a great feeling to know I could ride all over Sacramento to and from school for free,” said Ibarra.
The pilot program aims to decrease chronic absences at schools which are linked to a lack of reliable transportation.
“In a school district like ours where 70% of our families rely on free or reduced lunches, an economic relief like this will be a big deal,” said Alex Barrios with the Sacramento City Unified School District.
“This could affect 100,000 people. It’s a game-changer for a lot of families,” said Councilman Jay Schenerir whose been fighting to get this off the ground for eight years.
The fare-free program has no restrictions. Students can ride at any time anywhere, to and from school, after school, to jobs, sports, etc.
“If we’re talking about $120 a month for a bus pass that you no longer need, that could be the difference between medical expenses or other necessities,” said Schenerir.
So with an influx of new young riders, how will RT keep students safe?
“As a result of the work we’ve done, crime is way down. Incidents on trains, on buses, have been reduced significantly,” said Schenerir.
In the last three years, RT has upgraded security measures on its light rail lines, added more officers and installed hundreds of more cameras that Councilman Schenirer says gives him confidence.
“I feel comfortable. I would send my child to ride, I don’t think that will be a problem,” he said.
The city says no new security measures will be added at this time. But Sutter Health has agreed to conduct a full study on this one-year pilot program to evaluate its progress and how best to improve it.
Students enrolled in schools in SacRT’s service area have already been issued their 2019-2020 student ID card, which displays a special sticker for free SacRT ridership.
Youth not enrolled in school can receive a RydeFreeRT card at a Sacramento library or at SacRT’s Customer Service and Sales.
RydeFreeRT is set to run for one year with an extension planned depending on program success and is financially supported by the City of Sacramento, other cities and school districts within SacRT’s service boundaries, and funding grant from Sutter Health for a ridership study.
Parents and students interested in more information about SacRT’s fare-free youth program can visit RYDEFreeRT.com.