Rethinking RT

Here’s the second recorded interview I’m posting on Sacramento Regional Transit. This one is with Russell Rawlings, a local community organizer and progressive hellraiser. You might also remember Russell from his too-brief mayoral run, where he fought to get the poor and marginalized onto the agenda. The sorry state of Sacramento RT was central to his campaign, and he said at one point, “I believe we need to replace RT with something that works for the people.”

In this interview, we talked about growing up transit-dependent in Texas, the changes he’s seen at RT over the years, and the system’s recent heavy emphasis on attracting so-called “choice riders,” those more affluent riders who don’t have to rely on public transit. (All of RT’s marketing and outreach these days is like the pitch, below, to get Kings ticket holders to ride for free.)

We also talked about Measure B, which would raise sales taxes to fund a variety of transportation projects, mostly road repair in road construction. About 26 percent of that measure B Money would go to help stabilize Sacramento RT. That would leave Sacramento Regional Transit far behind the levels that other large California cities dedicate to their public transportation systems. But Rawlings is supporting Measure B, because he says RT needs some financial relief now, and because Measure B would help update RT’s aging fleet.

I should note, this interview was done a few weeks back. At the time, some details of Measure B were still being hammered out and Rawlings was ambivalent about the measure. I think it’s safe to say he’s still not in love with it, but he has come around, and now plans to vote “Yes.”

Here’s a piece of an op-ed he wrote earlier this month:

As a public transportation advocate, I’m disappointed that the breakdown favors a “car culture” mentality, but I do see something more in it … Local neighborhoods would receive great benefit from Measure B, both in terms of street repair and the development of more “complete streets” which would include safer and more convenient options for bus transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians.
With $952 million and a “Fix-It First” approach, it means the base-level infrastructure of the entire system gets priority. Regional Transit has already committed to the purchase of “low floor” light rail vehicles, meaning that there will be no steps to overcome for boarding or disembarking.
For the mobility challenged, this is huge. Per light rail car, capacity to carry passengers with mobility devices increases dramatically. The new train style also allows for more independence because passengers will not have to rely on an operator to manually deploy a ramp. I’ve personally lost track of the number of times I’ve been left behind by trains that have exceeded capacity. This is a vital and important system upgrade.

He also noted that Measure B would help shore up funding for Paratransit services which are a lifeline for many folks with disabilities.

So, our interview was a snapshot in time. We covered a lot of ground. But I was a bit concerned that if you just heard the original interview by itself, you wouldn’t get a true sense of how his thinking has developed on Measure B. I tried to record a follow up interview, by phone, but had technical problems and the audio was unusable. So, I tried to clarify in the intro, and hear of course.

If Measure B does pass, I plan on talking to Rawlings again about what happens next, and the hope he expressed in his op-ed:

Measure B is the first step. We can take this shopping list in Measure B plan and help shape the outcome through the public process. We can help focus the implementation of these funds in a way that is better for all. The roads and transit have to work for everyone.

This is one part of a series of interviews on Sacramento Regional Transit. Other interviews are here and here.

Further reading:

How Houston is remaking its bus network, and increasing ridership, without spending more money.

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