SMART officials on Wednesday agreed to issue 10,000 temporary special passes that will allow certain riders to use the trains free of charge as part of an attempt by the transit agency to provide relief to those affected by last month’s disastrous wildfires.
The passes will be evenly split among two groups of recipients: individual fire victims, provided through their employers; and customers of participating local businesses who spend at least $25 during the two weekends after Thanksgiving.
The individual passes for fire victims will be programmed on Clipper cards and can be used for an unlimited number of free rides through the end of the year. The 5,000 businesses relief passes approved by SMART will come as specially-designed tickets good for a single one-way train ride over the same time period.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board members approved the special passes at their meeting Wednesday afternoon in Petaluma, praising the move as a way to help people whose lives were upended by the historic wildfires and businesses facing a tough economic landscape in the wake of the disaster.
“This is the perfect solution, I think, for both of them, and especially during the holidays, to be able to sort of boost everybody’s experience and get them on the train if they haven’t been on the train,” said Deb Fudge, the Windsor mayor and chairwoman of SMART’s Board of Directors. “It’s a great partnership with the community.”
Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, said he couldn’t estimate the cost of the relief passes because he didn’t know whether the people who receive them would have used the trains anyway and, if so, where they would normally get on and off.
He was unable to provide a cost range in a follow-up interview Wednesday evening. SMART officials will monitor the use of the relief passes and report back later, he said.
“The honest truth is, we don’t know,” he said. “SMART is doing the right thing for the right reasons, and thanks to the strong ridership and the fact that we have met our financial goals so far, SMART is able to provide this. So people who have been riding us have put us in that strong position to be able to now help those in the community at their hour of need.”
The agency has reported 15,300 average weekly passengers from when service began in late August through October, and average weekly fare revenue of $74,362, above the $68,023 average weekly fares needed to make budget.
Service was free for two weeks after the fires began.
SMART hopes to issue the 5,000 passes for individual fire victims today so employers — who will have discretion over which fire victims receive the passes — can distribute them for use beginning Monday, according to Mansourian.
Participating employers include the Sonoma and Marin county governments, Kaiser and Sutter hospitals, the Sonoma and Marin county education offices, the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce and The Press Democrat, according to SMART.
Mansourian told board members that fire victims who want a pass but don’t work for any of the participating employers can be referred to SMART staff, who will verify the need of such individuals.