Perspectives on Regional Transit, From a First Time Rider

By Erica Root

Erica Root
Erica Root

You know the feeling. The flashing lights grab your attention, the railroad crossing bars come down, and you sit there in your car waiting for a light rail train to pass. You hope it’s light rail at least, because those big trains take forever.

But how many of you readers have ever taken light rail before?

I imagine it’s not many.

I’m not judging. Before two weeks ago, I hadn’t either.

I had been debating trying the local rail system for a while now. My recent move put me very close to a light rail station and considerably further from my work downtown. But with parking paid for, and a desire to have my car with me if needed, I kept driving in rather than test out the light rail system.

I finally took a chance and tested out Regional Transit. And it was awesome!

Out of necessity — a lack of rental cars from enterprise while I was without a vehicle — I finally took a chance and tested out Regional Transit.

And it was awesome!

Clean. Quick. More affordable than a Lyft, it was everything I needed.

Here’s What I Liked:

Moving from a prime location in East Sac to the burbs had been great because I became a homeowner, but difficult because I now had a significantly longer commute. To make up for the new commute, I tried to life hack myself: download some podcasts, challenge myself to learn all the Hamilton lyrics, and catch up with friends and family over the phone via my car’s Bluetooth speakers to make the commute more bearable. While those were nice distractions, I still found myself perpetually annoyed with bad drivers. You know who you are.

Taking light rail vanquished that typical freeway/downtown traffic stress. I wasn’t stuck catching every red light, I didn’t have to keep a watchful eye out for cyclists, and I didn’t have to just sit in traffic feeling like I wasn’t making any progress to my end destination.

In less than twenty minutes, I was just a few blocks from work.

It wasn’t even that bad standing at the light rail station in the dark. Cold maybe, but I felt safe, which is crucial. In less than twenty minutes, I was just a few blocks from work. The whole trip was easy and enjoyable. I read, I surfed my social media channels, and I started writing a blog post. I made good use of this new time.

It makes Sacramento feel more metropolitan….And frankly, I love it. 

What’s more is that it gave me a different feeling training into the city as opposed to driving in. It makes Sacramento feel more metropolitan. It reminds me more of the times I lived briefly in DC and Berlin, taking public transit to get around. And frankly, I love it.

And finally, for the most part, people are friendly and helpful. If you are a newcomer to any transit system, you may need to ask for help. I’ve asked for help and confirmation of where the train is going several times and people are usually willing to help and be responsive. Except for that one time when the lady didn’t even look at me and proceeded to completely ignore me. But whatever.

Here’s What I Don’t Like:

With lots of after work activities planned that aren’t necessarily on the light rail line, I might find it difficult to always take light rail to work. If you are a commuter who just goes to and from work, then light rail is definitely for you. Especially if you are only using light rail during major commute times. If you have a lot of after work obligations, it might be a little more difficult to stick to this transit system alone.

If you have a lot of after work obligations, it might be a little more difficult to stick to this transit system alone.

Also, buying tickets needs to be easier. I was shocked to learn that first time I took RT that the payment station only accepted cash. Who carries cash anymore? I rarely do and I especially don’t carry quarters on me. *Not allowing riders to simply swipe a credit card creates a barrier to access this underutilized resource. (See Editor’s Note below for how RT has addressed this issue).

Finally, the website isn’t very mobile friendly. I recommend checking the information you need on a desktop before traveling for the first time.

But despite these minor challenges, I am definitely sticking with light rail for the foreseeable future.

Light Rail Basics:

  • A one-way ticket on light rail is $2.75.
  • Monthly pass is $110. If you work for the State this amount can be subsidized. You are able to buy these passes in select locations around the city, including my local Raley’s grocery store.
  • A light rail map can be found here.
  • At peak times, the Gold Line runs every 15 minutes.
  • Double check the end destination of incoming trains. I made the mistake the other day of getting on the first train going my direction. Turns out it was heading to Elk Grove, which is not where I live.

*Editor’s Note: RT has an app that allows you to store a credit card and purchase tickets on your phone any time, even as you’re boarding the train. So don’t worry about not having cash on you. 

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