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Sacramento Public Transit Ridership Up As Gas Prices Continue To Soar

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) -- Gas prices continue to soar in the capital region as numbers show more are moving from their own cars to trains or buses — but experts say it may not be enough even as some drivers reach a breaking point.

UC Berkeley economist Severin Borenstein says it isn't likely consumers will flock back to public transit in pre-pandemic numbers.

"There's no magic price where suddenly everyone is going to go back to public transit," he says.

Jeff Brennan, a lifelong Sacramento resident, has started to use the local light rail in town.

"It makes it a little inconvenient in the summertime with the heat but I can't afford to pay the gas prices on top of all the other things," explains Brennan.

In the California Legislature, Gov. Gavin Newsom's gas rebate proposal is being hotly debated. Within the plan is $750 million to provide free rides on public transit for up to three months.

"There are people that don't drive cars that want relief from inflation -- deserve relief from inflation -- but prefer to use public transit," says HD Palmer, deputy director of the California Department of Finance.

But with auto use back to pre-pandemic levels and public transit still lagging, don't expect a revolution for more light rails and buses anytime soon.

"We aren't going to see this massive commitment to public transit we would see with these gas prices if we didn't have the pandemic also going on," Borenstein concludes.

This May, Sacramento Regional Transit saw increases in ridership by 8 percent on buses and 12 percent on light rails. The 1.1 million riders in May was the second time in the last three months the service has eclipsed a million rides a month. But that still trails far behind the pre-pandemic ridership numbers that averaged approximately 1.8 million rides per month.

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