by Thea Marie Rood
The Sacramento Regional Transit District’s fare-free transit program, which waives fares for students and youth in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade across SacRT’s service area, has been extended for another year, through Sept. 30, 2021.
It had been set to expire this fall, but thanks to additional funding from program partner City of Sacramento, RydeFreeRT will continue to offer kids a free ride on buses, light rail and SmaRT Ride microtransit service in the cities of Sacramento, Folsom, Citrus Heights, Ranch Cordova and parts of Sacramento County.
“Fare free transit removes a financial barrier for young people going to school, working at a job or internship, or participating in an enriching extracurricular opportunity. By making our kids mobile, we are opening doors to their future,” says Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “It is part of our City’s commitment to investing in our communities, particularly those that have historically been underserved.”
Preliminary research findings supported by Sutter Health show a significant positive impact on SacRT’s youngest riders, with student ridership up 127% pre-COVID and remaining high even after the shelter-in-place. Riders report it was easier to get to school, as well as to after-school or non-school activities. And by reducing the use of cars to get to where they need to go, these students are contributing to a decrease in automobile traffic and pollution in their neighborhoods.
RydeFreeRT youth advocate Shanthoshi Thamilseran, for example, is happy to have some reliable transportation and a sense of freedom, especially important now during these challenging times.
“Transit is readily accessible to me when I don’t have any money on me or if I don’t have a ride,” says the high school senior. “I know that RydeFreeRT has helped youth in the past year and will continue to do so going forward.”
Data shows about 220,000 students are eligible for the fare-free program. This includes students, home-schooled students, and foster and homeless youth. (And kids experiencing homelessness or in foster programs are allowed to participate regardless of their current residence or school address.)
“We are excited to continue to offer access to transit all day, every day for all Sacramento area youth that live in or attend school in our service area,” says Henry Li, SacRT General Manager/CEO. “We recognized the essential need for fare-free transit within the first few months the program launched, and we will continue to grow our future transit riders with the youth in the region.”
Because of the restrictions in place due to the pandemic—such as libraries and school offices closed or offering reduced hours—students don’t need a RydeFreeRT sticker or card to ride, but can simply show a student ID (even if it’s not current).
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.