SACRAMENTO -- On Tuesday, Sacramento's Regional Transit District launched its fare-free transit program for youth in the Sacramento area.
The capital city is making history by becoming the first city in the nation to offer free public transportation to all K-12 students.
"Since the removal of busing in schools, we've raised a common culture of not being able to get everywhere," said West Campus High School student Shanthoshi Thamilseran. "As youth, we just have been so dependent on using cars and relying on parents to get us everywhere."
According to city officials, students in the Sacramento City Unified School District can sometimes miss class because of not being able to get to school.
"Transportation is the number one issue leading to chronic absence," said City Councilman Jay Schenirer.
The goal of the "Ride Free RT" program is to change that reality. The program offers universal access to bus, light rail and smart ride service all day, every day during service hours.
About 220,000 students are eligible. That includes home-schooled students, foster and homeless youth.
"This means that kids from all neighborhoods who can't afford a car can get to any part of the city. This is powerful," said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
The program was designed to help students have access to transportation so they can attend after school programs, internships and jobs. City officials hope the new program inspires a shift in the way future generations think about transportation.
"When those riders know that they're going to get on a bus and it's going to take them where they're going to go," said County of Sacramento Supervisor and Sacramento Regional Transit District Board Director Patrick Kennedy. "They're going to get on a modern light rail system and it's going to take them where they want to go. That gets ingrained in who they are and becomes a part of our youth's DNA."
City officials estimate 100,000 more students will now be able to get around town more easily.
"For youth in Sacramento, I encourage you to use light rail," said Thamilseran. "This opportunity doesn't come for many students out there in the U.S. and the fact that the city has worked so hard to get us this opportunity means we need to be starting taking advantage of things like this and using RT and riding and riding often."
All students in Sacramento County will get a sticker on their ID cards that allows them to use any Regional Transit bus or train for free. Officials say the new program covers a 400-square-mile area.
"What we're doing here today not only helps the children of today, but it's going to help the air quality and it's going to help the transportation system for Sacramento for generations to come."