The bus stopped, and the doors opened. A woman grasped the handrail with her right hand and with her left planted her cane on the step. Pulling on the railing and leaning on her cane, she made her way slowly onto the bus. Her progress had a fragile tentativeness that made her appear much older than she looked.
She stopped beside the fare box and leaned on her cane. In her right hand she held a crumpled dollar bill. She tried to insert the bill into the green sign taped over the fare box.
"Thank you, Sacramento," said the sign. "Today's ride is on us." "Us" was Washington Mutual.
The woman made another attempt to slot the money into the slotless sign.
Today, Washington Mutual celebrated what a wonderful bank it is with a free for all on Sacramento Regional Transit.
Giving up on the fare box, the woman tried to hand the dollar to the driver.
"Rides are free today," the driver tried to explain.
The woman is a regular rider. She attends the Winterstein Adult Center. The center offers free classes for people who want to learn English.
After a moment of obvious puzzlement caused by this change of routine, the woman accepted that no one wanted her dollar. She pivoted on her cane and shuffled carefully to the nearest seat.
On my regular bus, which runs from American River College to Sacramento State and on to the 65th Street light rail station, two-thirds of the riders -- maybe more -- have monthly passes. WaMu's free rides had no meaning for them. Most didn't even notice the sign.
Since hearing of this free-ride offer yesterday afternoon, I have been trying oh so hard not to look into the mouth of this gift horse. I don't want to be rude or sound ungrateful, but RT passed up a golden opportunity to invite commuters to try its service for a day.
"Check us out," RT could have told the community. "There is an alternative to solo commuting on crowded freeways."
Instead, RT gave less than 24 hours' notice. The Business Journal web site and several other sites that routinely publish unedited press releases announced the free rides, but the other news organizations paid no attention, at least none that I could find. Nothing appeared in The Bee to alert people who don't regularly ride the bus.
It is simply not feasible that WaMu's offer to give transit riders a free ride at its expense was a surprise to RT. Every light rail ticket machine, every fare box, every light rail car and every bus had notices about WaMu's "Thank you, Sacramento" offer, signs that only existing riders were likely to see.
Why did RT give away this opportunity?