Eye on Sacramento’s
Opposition to Regional Transit’s Service Cutbacks
The Sacramento Regional Transit District is proposing major service cutbacks to its system that will reduce ridership by 1 million passengers annually in order to cut operating expenses by $2.2 million. This proposal falls on the heels of a very recent 10% fare increase, and it will likely be followed by another 10% fare increase next year (an RT staff recommendation) which will bring RT fares to the highest in the nation. Annual ridership, which had been growing steadily from 1988 to 2009, when it reached 35 million, has since plunged to 25 million trips with no end in sight to the decline. Every major action that RT has taken in recent years seems calculated to further weaken the transit system’s financial and operational integrity and reduce its capacity to serve the public’s transit needs.
Eye on Sacramento understands the serious financial difficulty in which Sacramento Regional Transit finds itself, much of it due to RT’s own making. For example, RT has approved three to four percent wage and salary hikes in recent years at a time when the cost of living was rising only one percent. The Board also approved spending $45 million in local Measure A sales tax funds to build a single mile of track, known as the Green Line, to a developer’s project site in Township 9 (Richards Blvd.). These were funds that could have been used to support RT’s system-wide light rail and bus operations. They could also have been used to avoid RT’s issuance of costly bond debt which now drains $6 million annually from RT’s beleaguered general fund. Although the operating subsidies that RT collects from various government and tax sources have been steadily increasing at a healthy rate of four to five percent per year, their growth is still not large enough (and, frankly, will never be large enough) to sustain the system while the Board gives its staff excessive wage hikes, wastes tens of millions of dollars to benefit a tiny number of downtown developers, adopts ruinous fare hikes and service cuts and then stands back to watch its patronage and the revenue it brings, plummet.
In a report that EOS delivered to RT’s Board in March, EOS recommended that the Board abandon its ruinous path of fare hikes and service cutbacks to alleviate the financial crisis and turn, instead, to cost cutting that will not hurt patronage. EOS offered 15 recommendations, only one of which included service reductions that would depress patronage. Others included such actions as returning to the bargaining table to renegotiate both wages and work rules to, for example, make widespread use of part-time drivers. They also included the Board asking downtown developers to reimburse RT, in part, for the financially destructive decisions that they have forced upon RT.
 “EOS’s Recommendations on RT’s Fiscal Crisis: Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral,” March 14, 2016.
EOS also endorses the principle expressed by the Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR) that RT redeploy resources from the operation of unproductive routes to increase service and patronage on the system’s best routes. This can be done when RT reduces its cost structure. We also endorse STAR’s support for immediately mothballing the Green Line to Township 9, upon which RT squandered $45 million in Measure A funds to build. This service attracts only 300 passengers per day. Mothballing it would save $333,000 each year. We very much oppose the Board’s thinking that it further appeases Township 9 interests by diverting half of the Gold Line service away from the Sacramento Valley Station to Township 9 to preserve current light rail service to Township 9. Doing so would damage intermodal connections to and from the Capitol Corridor for no reason other than to appease a crony. Doing so would also cut savings from discontinuing service to Township 9 from $333,000 per year to only $235,000. Township 9 already is served by two good bus services to downtown. If the developer of Township 9 wishes to assure a continuation of light rail service to his project site, he should be invited to fund the cost of it.
EOS urges the RT board to start thinking of the best interests of its riders and the populace of Sacramento when making decisions rather than the interests of politically connected developers.
If you have any questions regarding this statement, please contact Professor Greg Thompson (Emeritus), Chair, EOS Transportation Committee, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: (916) 246-9230.