Government officials champion Sacramento transit

Sacramento Area Council of Governments key to funding and public engagement

By Glenn Swain

When a transit agency entertains open fare options now available, local and regional government officials may not possess the technical expertise, but they most often prove to be the go-to source for funding projects and getting the public engaged in the process.

Six years ago when the Sacramento Regional Transit District (SRTD), Sacramento, CA, elected to institute a smartcard system, getting local politicians on board was imperative, as most of the agency’s federal funding goes through the consortium of six agencies that comprise the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACG). Two more agencies may join with the next year.

“With the District the single largest transit provider in the region, we concluded this fare payment project would not make sense if it was not a regional program,” says Robert W. McCrary, a SACG project manager and senior planner. “So the Sacramento Area Council of Governments paid for a $300,000 grant to do a feasibility study.”

Presented in 2007, the feasibility study revealed a smartcard system was possible, but the challenge would be in the funding.

Robert McCrary, project manager and senior planner for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments

“With the same group of stakeholders together for nearly six years, we birthed this idea and built a partnership from the ground up,” says McCrary. “We developed a collective vision for what kind of system we wanted and what it would do for this region. Our stakeholders spent most of 2008 gathering resources and making sure we had a way of paying for the new smartcard system.”

As they ironed out the wrinkles in the funding process, SACG, an advisory group called Transit Coordinating Committee and various focus groups took the project to the people. SACG met with the Pennsylvania-based consultant LTK engineering in its Seattle office.

“As this was a very specialized and technical undertaking, it is important to have experts in the industry to provide a broad perspective on the technology and bring their knowledge of lessons learned to the table,” says McCrary. “Our consultants were really involved in the process. We thought it was necessary to make a significant investment in our consulting services. Although SRTD is a large agency, it does not have in-house expertise in electronic fare systems. Plus, this was a multi-agency design, so we really needed a consultant who could bring a dispassionate and objective view.”

McCrary stresses that agencies tackling big projects like a fare collection overhaul need to find champions for a project that will very likely be expensive and risky.

“Build partnerships early, especially for a multi-agency deployment,” he says. “Every transit agency has important stakeholders. Spend time building those relationships, stressing transparency and get all the important players invested in the project.”

The SRTD is finishing up a final system design and are on track to have a pilot project in Spring 2013, with a sequential roll out of the system in the various transit agencies the following summer. It’s likely the agency will do a pilot on a small section of the agency on both rail and bus, and then grow from there.

“We will have a very active public education campaign to educate patrons on how to use the system,” says McCrary. “Our training will stress the many ways this new technology will benefit our customers.” BR

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