New Sacramento transit chief vows fast action

Henry Li says Sacramento RT needs a major overhaul right away to improve service and regain its financial footing.
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Henry Li says Sacramento RT needs a major overhaul right away to improve service and regain its financial footing.


Sacramento Regional Transit eliminates administrative jobs, cancels bus cuts

By Tony Bizjak

June 13, 2016 11:42 AM

Sacramento Regional Transit last week laid off 20 employees in a cost-cutting move, and said it has come up with extra money that will allow it to avoid planned bus service cuts.

The moves are part of an ongoing reform effort at RT, focused on stabilizing the agency budget after several years in the red.

The majority of the people laid off worked in the agency’s administrative offices on capital improvement projects and rail expansion projects that have been completed, said incoming General Manager Henry Li.

“We don’t have business needs to justify these positions.” said Li, who currently serves as the agency’s chief financial officer. “The cuts will not affect customer experience and service quality.”

Officials say the agency still plans expansion projects, such as extending light rail to the airport, but those projects have been slowed while it balances its budget, closes out debt and rebuilds its depleted financial reserves.

The staff reductions will save the agency $1.5 million this year in salaries, Li said. RT has 960 employees, down from a peak of 1,200 in 2007 before the recession hit. RT cut service 20 percent in 2009 and 2010, and has only marginally increased service since then.

RT officials say they also are finalizing a deal with the regional air quality district and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments that will provide an additional $1 million this year, allowing the agency to avoid a previously planned series of service cuts in January.

Those planned cuts had been protested by numerous riders, who complained the agency was trying to balance its budget on their backs. The RT board earlier this year voted to increase fares. Those fare increases are still scheduled to go into effect on July 1, and will make RT one of the most expensive local transit systems to ride in the country.

Li and current General Manager Mike Wiley said the agency is, however, conducting an analysis of existing bus routes, and may make some changes to save money through efficiencies. Routes 2 and 34 could be combined into one, for example.

They said the potential changes, designed to save money, will focus on efficiencies and should have minimal impact on riders. The agency recently said it was considering temporarily shuttering the light-rail Green Line as part of potential January changes. Li this week said the Green Line could see operational changes as a result of the upcoming analysis.

“If we do get savings from that, we want to reinvest the savings to provide better customer service or service quality,” Li said. “For example, more transit agents on trains, or to hire more workers to clean trains and buses better, or put it into our operating reserves.”

RT police Chief Norm Leong said five new transit agents have been trained and are now deployed on light-rail trains checking fares. They are the first of 25 new agents the agency intends to deploy this summer to reduce fare evasion and to make trains safer.

The agency also plans to fill 13 cleaning crew positions in the upcoming budget year. Riders have criticized the lack of cleanliness aboard trains.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments also is conducting a regional analysis of service offered by RT and other transit agencies to see where routes are duplicative, to help agencies cooperate better and save money.

The RT board tonight will be asked to approve a five-year contract with Li, who was hired two weeks ago as incoming agency head.

Li’s annual salary will be $216,000. That is $14,000 less than that of outgoing agency head Wiley. Li will get performance incentives rather than automatic raises. Li, 52, has worked at four transit agencies, most recently the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

RT board chairman Jay Schenirer said the agency hired Li as new general manager to bring “cultural change” to an organization that needs to improve its financial condition and its standing in the community.

Business leaders have challenged the agency to provide efficient, clean and safe service this fall when the Golden 1 Center arena opens downtown, likely bringing several thousand new riders to the system.

The agency is planning more security at its park-and-ride lots, volunteer guides at station platforms, and is in talks with local businesses about sponsorships that could allow the agency to let people with arena tickets ride light rail for free on event nights.

The agency also is remodeling its station at Seventh Street and Capitol Mall for arena crowds. The agency is planning to install 30 additional ticket vending machines on station platforms by mid-September.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak