Elk Grove Transit Ride-a-long to Promote RydeFreeRT

Target Audience: Our primary target audience for the Elk Grove Transit Ride-A-Long was all parents and students (grades TK through 12th) living and/or going to school in the City of Elk Grove.

Strategy Objective:The strategy was to attract local media by offering a ride-a-long opportunity on one of our Elk Grove bus routes with the Elk Grove mayor, Elk Grove Unified School District Superintendent and Elk Grove School Board Member with the objective of broadly promoting the RydeFreeRT program to raise awareness with Elk Grove parents and students. We distributed a media advisory to invite local media on the ride-a-long, where they rode an in-service bus making stops to pick up students on the way to school. We took photos and videos of the ride-a-long and distributed a press release after, sharing the event on social media channels. For media that couldn't attend the ride-a-long, we shared a DropBox link in the press release with b-roll video, testimonials and photos.

Situation Challenge: School districts across the country are struggling to provide affordable, reliable, and convenient student transportation. SacRT has been offering students/youth within our service area fare-free transit services since October 2019, the launch of the RydeFreeRT program. RydeFreeRT has increased youth transit ridership, improved student attendance and reduced absenteeism, and provided more access to non-school related travel. SacRT annexed Elk Grove transit services into its system on July 1, 2021. Part of the annexation agreement included adding Elk Grove students in grades TK through 12th in SacRT's RydeFreeRT fare-free for youth program. However, we needed to make sure Elk Grove parents and students were aware of the newly extended fare-free program, and how it worked.

Results Impact: As a result of the ride-a-long event in August 2021, we received over 10 broadcast and online news stories about the Elk Grove RydeFreeRT fare-free for students/youth program. Broadcast stories reached an audience of 152,284. We posted about the ride-a-long on social media and as a result, received 5,301 impressions on Twitter, with 116 engagements and 17 profile visits. On Facebook, we reached 6,600 people, engaged with 525 and the post was shared 32 times. For all three social media channels, we had 12,161 impressions. Prior to the ride-a-long, student ridership was about 2,700 a month. After the event, student ridership grew to 7,792 in September 2021, and by October 2021 it was 10,286. In just two months, student ridership in Elk Grove outpaced pre-pandemic levels.

Why Submit: The program has been a game-changer to increase transit access to riders in our new service area and historically under-resourced communities. Although our ridership numbers had been typically flat during the pandemic, we have seen student ridership rise, especially after schools reopened to in-person learning. In September 2021, student ridership in Elk Grove accounted for 37.1% of ridership and in October 2021 it accounted for 42.5% of ridership. The ride-a-long event was a fun and innovative example of how to reach a broad audience to support SacRT's objective of quickly raising awareness of the RydeFreeRT program. Students are future transit riders and fare-free transit programs are a great opportunity to start lifetime advocacy early.