San Diego MTS sees continued increase in transit ridership

Feb. 12, 2020
Trolley and bus ridership increases by 1.2 million trips in the last six months from the previous year.

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) trolley and bus ridership continues to climb, reaching nearly 1.2 million extra passenger trips in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2020.

The last time San Diego MTS saw this level of ridership gains was in FY15, when the agency recorded back-to-back years of record ridership.

The spike has been led by the trolley, which last year posted eight straight months of year-over-year gains (April-November), including a nine-percent jump in September.

“More and more San Diegans are using transit as an alternative to driving. This has a direct effect on lessening traffic congestion, providing cleaner air and lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” said Nathan Fletcher, San Diego MTS board chair and San Diego County supervisor. “This momentum significantly helps our efforts moving MTS forward to provide a better connected, less congested, greener future.”

“The increase in the first three months was encouraging, but you always want to see that sustained in the second quarter. We’ve made that jump,” said Paul Jablonski, San Diego MTS CEO. “Last month we increased service on the UC San Diego Blue Line due to high demand, and we will continue to do those types of things operationally to keep the momentum.”

On the rail side, trolley ridership increased by 753,435 passenger trips in the first two quarters of the fiscal year. Trolley ridership was 9.1-percent higher in September 2019 compared to the same month in 2018. On the bus side, ridership increased by 461,148 passenger trips in the first six months. Notable to this increase is that San Diego MTS buses had a 5 percent ridership spike in July, the largest year-over-year increase since October 2014.

In the first six months of the fiscal year, (July- December) bus and trolley ridership combined has grown by 1.2 million compared to the same months in 2018. Going back even further, Trolley ridership has improved in 13 of the past 16 months compared to the same months in previous years.

There are many factors that can lead to ridership gains. San Diego MTS completed its Transit Optimization Plan last year, and riders are now realizing the benefits of the $2-million plan that streamlined and added frequency to many routes.

San Diego MTS held its second annual Free Ride Day and results nearly doubled from the previous year­, reporting a 30 percent spike in ridership. This trend also continued the rest of October with San Diego MTS reporting 293,928 more trips than that same month in 2018.

San Diego MTS introduced the new discounted $3 day-pass for youth, seniors and people with disabilities or Medicare. Youth 30-day passes were also reduced from $36 to $23.

While trolley ridership has led the resurgence, bus ridership has experienced more than 400,000 extra passenger trips over last year. Two major developments have helped it into the plus column.

The South Bay Rapid opened and average weekday ridership on that line is about 1,800 and climbing. The addition of this service from Otay Mesa to downtown, as well as the opening of a modern transit center just north of the Otay Mesa Border Crossing, has caused other routes serving the area to increase as well.

Additionally, San Diego MTS increased Rapid Superloop service at the end of January 2019. These routes, serving the University City area and UC San Diego, are showing weekday ridership topping 9,233 trips per weekday, an increase of 2,200 weekday trips over the same period of July-December 2019.