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Public transportation officials expect uptick in riders as gas prices continue to rise

SacRT and San Joaquin RTD typically see an increase in ridership when gas prices jump quickly.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You might have heard, gas prices in California are going up, way up. And with the state seeing the average gas price over $4 a gallon soon, officials expect more people to turn to public transportation.

Sacramento Regional Transit district is expecting a significant uptick in ridership through the summer, according to SacRT spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez. Typically, SacRT sees an increase in ridership when gas prices jump quickly or are $4.50 or higher, Gonzalez said.

In the spring and summer of 2008, SacRT saw a 25 percent increase in ridership. At that time, gas prices were up to $4.50 a gallon. Gonzalez says gas prices were one of the biggest factors that played into the increased in ridership at that time.

A major freeway construction project in Sacramento was also underway and it was the beginning of the economic downturn.

“We think all of those factors played into the increased in ridership at that time,” Gonzalez explained.

Like other transit agencies across the country, SacRT has faced numerous challenges over the last couple of years, including a decline in ridership decline. Officials say they believe improvements in the economy, rising vehicle ownership, and lower gas prices are some of the reasons for the decline.

But Gonzalez said SacRT is already beginning to see indications that ridership is improving.

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To prepare for more people turning to public transportation, SacRT has reduced fares, increased 15-minute weekend service on light rail, eliminated parking fees at park-and-ride lots and launched an on-demand micro-transit shuttle service.

The district also plans on expanding the SmaRT Ride micro-transit service into Midtown, Downtown and East Sacramento this summer. SacRT is also getting ready to launch a bus redesign project in September. Officials said the new bus network will improve connectivity, add frequency and weekend service hours.

Several additional service areas include adding electric bus service from UC Davis campus to UC Davis Medical Center, and adding an airport shuttle service from Downtown, Gonzalez said.

Public transit in San Joaquin County has also seen an uptick in ridership since July, according to San Joaquin County Regional Transit District spokesperson Terry Williams.

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“Gas prices are one factor of many that impact ridership,” Williams said. “We see ridership decline when it drops from $4.00 as it had in the last few years."

In fact, ridership appears to be up significantly more than it dropped the prior year, he explained. But officials are checking passenger counts currently to verify that information.

However, Williams said the biggest swings are a result of combinations of factors rather than one single cause.

“Other factors include greater access to driver's licenses in California, improved employment numbers, changes to routes made by RTD, and the introduction of other transportation services,” he said.

San Joaquin RTD plans on strategically adding new routes and more services. They also continue to promote their VanGo rideshare, which gives service to unicorporated area of San Joaquin County.

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