Regional Transit: Fare-Free Program for Youth is a Success!

February 12, 2020
Sacramento Regional Transit

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) announced today that student ridership has doubled since implementing the fare-free program for youth/students in grades transitional kindergarten (TK) to 12th. SacRT launched the RydeFreeRT program in October 2019, which offers youth/students access to the entire SacRT network, including buses, light rail and SmaRT Ride on-demand microtransit service, for free.

Last month, SacRT experienced record ridership increases with 176,500 student trips taken on bus, which is a 106% increase from January 2019 student ridership.

“One of our top priorities at the City of Sacramento is offering more opportunities for young people,” said City of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “Having a free transit pass makes it easier to get to that paid internship, to that sports practice or that afterschool program. It’s amazing to see so many students take advantage of their new freedom to move around the Sacramento region and take advantage of all the opportunities it offers.”

The City of Sacramento provided SacRT with $1 million, as well as additional funds from other cities and school districts to counter revenue loss for the year-long RydeFreeRT program.

“Young people have told us the number one reason for chronic absence is lack of transportation. By eliminating transportation barriers, we’re increasing chances for more young people to succeed in school, career and in life,” said SacRT Board Director and City Council Member Jay Schenirer.

“SacRT is setting a new standard that will be emulated across the nation.”

“This program is the first in the nation to offer students free transit seven days a week, anywhere, any time,” said SacRT Board Chair and City Council Member Steve Hansen. “We are seeing a spike in students riding SacRT after school and on weekends, which confirms that there is a strong need for students to get to jobs, internships and extracurricular activities – Exactly what we hoped would happen with the implementation of this program.”

“Free fares for youth not only opens the door to opportunity, it creates lifelong public transit riders by instilling the habit at a young age,” said SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li. “Research shows that people who ride public transportation at a young age are more likely to use it as adults, which could have a tremendous impact on traffic congestion and air quality.”

Researchers at University of Texas, Austin who recently completed a study with three Sacramento City Unified School District schools to assess the barriers students face in traveling to school and other activities, are conducting a study on the impact of fare-free transportation on these students’ lives in areas including, but not limited to, school attendance, engagement in out-of-school time enrichment activities, participation in work-based learning, and attitudes towards SacRT in general. The study is expected to be complete this summer.

More than 300 schools in the Sacramento region are enrolled in the program. Most students automatically received a RydeFreeRT sticker with their student ID. For students and youth not attending a participating school, stickers and cards are available for free at local Sacramento County public libraries and SacRT’s Customer Service and Sales Center.

Partners and participating school districts include Sacramento Public Library, Center Unified School District, Elk Grove Unified School District, Folsom Cordova Unified School District, Natomas Unified School District, Robla School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, Sacramento County Office of Education, San Juan Unified School District, Twin Rivers Unified School District, City of Citrus Heights, City of Folsom and City of Rancho Cordova. The RydeFreeRT program runs until September 30, 2020. SacRT is working to secure funding to continue the program in future years.

Within fiscal year 2020, SacRT has seen an estimated 6% increase in ridership system-wide. More information on the program is available at RydeFreeRT.com. Watch a student testimonial about the RydeFreeRT program here.

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