Transit Talk with the General Manager

December 04, 2020
Henry Li, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:

Welcome to the December 2020 edition of Transit Talk with the General Manager.

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a challenging year! As with all businesses and agencies, SacRT has had to respond to the ever-changing circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, SacRT's trajectory was on a steadfast climb: our ridership was growing and a Sacramento county-wide poll showed our public satisfaction rating at an all-time high. SacRT was the first transit agency in the nation to implement an unrestricted system-wide fare-free program for youth, RydeFreeRT, in grades kindergarten through 12th; expanded our microtransit service SmaRT Ride to nine zones, making it one of the largest programs in the nation; implemented Airport Express bus service for the first time in SacRT's history; and launched a new zero emission electric bus connection between the cities of Davis and Sacramento. In February 2020, prior to the California shelter-in-place order, SacRT experienced a 127% increase in student ridership and 15% system-wide ridership increase year over year.

What took years to build was quickly offset in a matter of days by an unprecedented crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place order and school closures. However, COVID-19 also confirmed what we already knew, that public transit plays a vital role in keeping our communities moving. One thing that has been consistent from the start of the crisis is that public transit is a lifeline for many - providing critical mobility options for millions of frontline healthcare, public safety, grocery and service industry workers fulfilling essential roles.

SacRT also quickly developed a variety of COVID-19 related safeguards implementing best safety practices, including fogging and disinfecting vehicles and facilities; securing PPEs for employees and customers; implementing rear-door boarding; blocking seats to provide more physical distancing; installing protective plexiglass barriers near the driver's seat; requiring that all riders and employees wear a mask/face covering; and urging riders to use contactless payment options. All these measures became the new normal and continue today.

Looking forward, the SacRT Board of Directors unanimously approved the SacRT Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2021-2025, which will serve as the guiding vision for our post-pandemic strategic success. This strategic plan details SacRT's goals and articulates the agency's vision and commitment to improving the customer experience, pursuing operational excellence, creating meaningful partnerships with the Sacramento community, and for continuing to develop an engaged workforce.

This month, SacRT will keep the holiday spirit bright for our transit customers by providing free rides on the SacRT Holiday Bus. This year SacRT partnered with Food Literacy Center whose mission is to inspire kids to eat their vegetables. They teach children in low-income elementary schools cooking, nutrition, gardening and active play to improve their health, environment and the economy. In lieu of fare, passengers can donate cash in the fare box or donate online. Visit for more information.

Local businesses have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Therefore, to help support small and local businesses this holiday season, SacRT is also offering free rides on its SmaRT Ride on-demand microtransit shuttles every Tuesday in December 2020. SmaRT Ride shuttles operate in nine zones across the Sacramento region and provide convenient corner-to-corner service using a smartphone app. This makes holiday shopping in your neighborhood easy and stress-free. To ride SmaRT Ride for free, simply print or screenshot the Transit Tuesday flier located at To learn more about the service and find a zone near you, visit

Once again, I want to personally thank every one of you for complying with the California Department of Public Health's guidance that requires face coverings or masks while riding public transportation. Your diligence is helping keep us all healthy and safe. Learn more at

Although we are in the midst of the most challenging year in recent memory, I, along with the SacRT team, want to share our sincere gratitude and thanks for your strong support and continued patronage as we navigate our way to better times. Please know that SacRT will continue to make your safety, health and well-being our number one priority. I wish you all a happy holiday season and a healthy 2021!

Now let's get to your questions!

Sacramento, CA:  Calendar Year 2020 is one to forget. That being said, in looking ahead to Calendar Year 2021, what are the district goals for the next twelve months? What do you hope, next holiday season, to look back on and say, “We accomplished that in 2021!” ?

Reply:  Thank you for your question. 2020 certainly was an unprecedented year filled with challenges. Looking forward to 2021, SacRT is excited to serve our community and continue to move the region forward. At our most recent Board meeting the Board approved a new Strategic Plan for the district. You can view that plan here: We will be very busy with our Light Rail Modernization project in 2021 and look forward to new low-floor light rail vehicles and station conversions in the next few years.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Will the on going COVID-19 pandemic cause Regional Transit to make unforced service cuts for the foreseeable future, or do you have a funding source for continuing on-going operations as is, prior to instituting any additional service recovery, and/or service expansion?

Reply:  SacRT was thankful to receive federal CARES Act funding earlier this year to help fill budget holes caused by the pandemic. We have been fortunate that we have not had to layoff or furlough a single employee and as of September our service is close to 100% pre-COVID service levels. This funding should support us for the foreseeable future, but with some much uncertainty from the pandemic, it will be critical that Congress consider additional funding for public transit to ensure the essential lifeline service continues in communities across the nation.

Rancho Córdova, CA:  Following the “CARES Act” do you foresee anything promising in Washington, D.C. or the State Capitol, or is the outlook very pessimistic at this time?

Reply:  The incoming Administration and leaders in Congress have spoken about the need for a COVID-19 relief package. In fact, earlier this week we saw a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives introduce a $908 billion COVID-19 emergency aid package that includes $15 billion for public transportation. We will continue to work with partners to underscore the need of additional funding assistance.

Sacramento, CA:  Just a follow-up from the November chat. Have you had an opportunity to follow up with planning, scheduling, and operations regarding the early morning tight connections between blue line trains and Routes 26 and 84? As I stated last month, I ride the Blue Line to Watt/I-80 then either Route 26 (6:01am) or Route 84 (6:02am) towards Folsom Boulevard. That being said, if you remember, I pointed out that the Blue Line on weekday mornings arrives Watt/I-80 at 5:59am on paper. When I looked at a paper schedule, I was unsuccessful in being able to ride the blue line earlier as there are no earlier blue line trains. This is what we need so that these particular morning connections are not so tight. As a follow-up, could you look into earlier weekday blue line trains arriving at Watt/I-80 earlier than 5:59am? Thank you.

Reply:  Thanks for your comment. The train times themselves are not going to change, but we notified our bus operators on the Route 26 (6:01 am at Watt/I-80) to wait until transfers are made from light rail and we have seen good compliance with this instruction. We hope that this will help with your commute.

Elk Grove, CA:  How are things going as far as Regional Transit and Elk Grove annexation are concerned? Are the parties satisfied and ready to bring a resolution to their respective governing bodies in either December and/or January?

Reply:  Both agencies are working diligently to move forward with the annexation. Discussions are continuing and another Board and Council 2x2 will be scheduled in the coming month.

Sacramento, CA:  Has any progress been made on the real time light rail on the signs at your stations?

Reply:  Currently we have scheduled times on our Light Rail electronic message boards. We are working on a project to have next train arrival announcements in our stations by the middle of next year.

Folsom, CA:  Will light rail trains be able to go “touchless” again? I loved at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when all doors and all cars opened at every station. To reduce touch points, I originally felt that this was a great idea. Thank you.

Reply:  Great question! We were able to open all doors in the spring, but we had to stop with the high temperatures in the summer because the light rail vehicles were unable to maintain an acceptable level of cool air. We are in a similar situation now, with cooler temperatures This is something we can consider in the spring, if we are still in the same situation. Thank you for riding!

Sacamento, CA:  Good Afternoon Henry...I think that RT's Microtransit service is awesome and that RT's innovations set a high bar for transit district's nationwide in an effort to provide the public alternatives to using private companies such as Uber or Lyft. I do have a question about SmaRTride's opeartions. SInce RT changed up some of the service areas from corner-to-corner service to the virtual bus stop model I find their to many inefficiencies in regards to the change. I don't know if RT implemented this change in offer to reduce service/labor costs but it seems that might not be the case. Since the these changes were implemented using SmaRTride can be quite frustrating. The app doesn't provide precise and clear directions as to exactly where to pick up the bus at nor does it provide clear direction as to where it is going to let a passenger off. This in turn decreases the efficiency of the service because your operators are having to spend more time trying to locate the passenger in addition the passenger has to try and track the bus down leading to unneccesary frustations that don't exactly convey the image of the conveniences that the private rideshare options provide with curb-to-curb service. Having speaking with your CBS operators who pick me up often on the Franklin/South Sac route they are often frustrated with your system and other passengers I have spoken with have expressed their frustrations as well. Also at time the app is unreliable in trying to book a ride as it will tell you that SmaRTride is all booked and to please try again later. This happens quite often and trying to contact customer service can be difficult at times due to an increased number of callers resulting in riders simply not getting a ride. There have been times when this has occurred that it has increased my stress level to where I've ditched public transit to use Uber or Lyft which results in an increased cost for myself and adds to the gridlock on our streets. I was wondering if RT could evaluate these changes and see if changes could be better made to make service easier to use and help reduce both the frustations for the passengers as well as your operators. At times your operators become overwhelmed because of this and in turn doesn't leave them to feel like the "HEROES" that RT praises them as. Overall though I am very satisfied with SmaRTride and find it to be a very invaluable service to the region and applaud your vision to help RT stay relevant in the community. Again Hentry I want to personally thank you and all of RT's administrative staff along with RT's front-line bus operators for the sacrifices that you all make on a daily basis during this pandemic to ensure that the region has a safe, efficient, and reliable public transit services; you all truly personify the word "HERO" in every aspect. Also I would like to like recognize two of your CBS operators, Regina and "T" for their explementary customer service skills. Both of these operators make riding SmaRTride a fun and enjoyable experience through their friendly personalities and customer service oriented attitudes; I feel safe when when riding with them and know that I'm good hands as they consistently exceed the high expectations that RT has of it's operators! Regards...Justin Mendoza

Reply:  Great comment Justin! I will share your comment and your kind words with our SmaRT Ride team. Our SmaRT Ride team works very closely with our app and software vendor to make improvements to process and we appreciate your feedback and will it with them. Thank you for riding!

Closing Remarks:

Thank you for your questions. The next session of Transit Talk with the General Manager/CEO will be held on Friday, February 5, 2021.

I wish you a safe and Happy New Year!