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Learning From History: The Red Arrow

Dear Riders,

If you enjoy transit as I do, reading transit history is often a depressing business. Virtually every story ends the same... an interurban electric railway survived the great depression, carried record loads through the war, paid taxes on its revenue and infrastructure, held up its requirements to pave roads, faced competition from unregulated and highly subsidized road transport, and followed regulations that prevented an increase in fares against inflation... then folded. There are exceptions! The Red Arrow is one of them. You can ride it today. Connecting the end of the Market Street rapid transit line in Philadelphia with Media and Sharon Hill, its lines are now SEPTA's suburban streetcars.

Why is this? Attached is one historian's explanation. To survive the great depression, the Red Arrow defied its peers and lowered fares and maintained service levels. As a transit rider, I approve of such measures. As a private company, the Red Arrow lines had to afford such measures. So, how did they? The answer was buses. In fact, in 1930, the Red Arrow actually expanded the bus system.

Economic indicators give every impression that we are facing another recession. What is the lesson for transit? Here is a contemporary suggestion. Better transit service in Sacramento requires not only more frequent light rail trains but also more frequent bus connection to serve malls and universities. Light rail (Blue and Gold routes), #1, #30, #51, #86, #23 (as far as Watt Avenue) all 20 minutely. This would connect each Saturday light rail train with Sunrise Mall, high ridership areas along Stockton Blvd and Howe Avenue, Arden Fair Mall, American River College, midtown, and CSUS. Anyone who knows transit in Sacramento knows that this proposal increases bus service and decreases light rail service. What is astonishing is how expensive light rail service is and how inexpensive bus service is. Anyone who rides the bus in Sacramento knows how important transfers are. Our light rail routes don't serve most major traffic generators. Buses do that. So, in the next recession, will Regional Transit return weekend light rail service to half-hourly and buses to hourly? Or will it brace for decreased tax revenues now, by creating a balanced system that increases weekend and evening ridership? (As for fares, an RT board member is proposing that kids will be able to ride free: See yah on the bus!

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