“I need a ride!”

by Thea Marie Rood

With many schools open or reopening, and summer just around the corner, Sacramento kids need some safe, reliable transportation. Sacramento Regional Transit District is providing plenty of buses, light rail trains and microtransit services, but the best part: Rides are fare-free for students and youth in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.

SacRT’s RydeFreeRT program is available any day, any time that SacRT operates service—thanks to a partnership with the City of Sacramento.

Estimates show about 220,000 kids are eligible for RydeFreeRT, which includes students, home-schooled students, foster and homeless youth. (And kids experiencing homelessness or in foster programs are allowed to participate regardless of their current residence or school address.)

“Fare-free transit removes a financial barrier for young people, particularly those who have historically been underserved,” says Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “By making our kids mobile, we are opening doors to their futures.”

In fact, preliminary research findings supported by Sutter Health show a significant positive impact on SacRT’s youngest riders.

For example, student ridership was up 127% pre-COVID and remained high even after the shelter-in-place, with riders reporting it was easier to get to school, as well as to after-school or non-school activities. The new transit users are by-and-large kids who previously had to depend on a car ride to get where they needed to go: Now they have more reliable transportation and are contributing to a decrease in automobile traffic and pollution in their neighborhoods.

College freshman Amar Sabi is a big proponent of the program and used it frequently last year as a senior in high school. “RydeFreeRT was such a big help during my busiest year of high school,” he says. “I was able to get to school, my job, theater rehearsals and club activities, and see my friends more often. It gave me peace of mind, knowing I could always get where I needed to go.”

Fares are waived on buses, light rail and SmaRT Ride microtransit service in Sacramento, Folsom, Citrus Heights, Ranch Cordova and parts of Sacramento County.

Because of the restrictions still in place due to the pandemic—such as libraries and school offices closed or offering reduced hours—students don’t need a current RydeFreeRT sticker to ride, but can simply show a student ID (even if it’s not current) or any RydeFreeRT card.

“We saw a huge jump in student ridership when we launched the fare-free transit program, proving there is a real need to get students to school and other activities throughout the region,” said SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li. “We are excited to see so many students take advantage of the program and hope to keep them as life-long transit riders.”

Students and youth who do not have a student ID can get a free RydeFreeRT card by visiting SacRT’s Customer Service and Sales Center at 1225 R Street (adjacent to the 13th Street Station). For more information, see rydefreert.com.