California News

San Diego trolley, bus ridership near pre-pandemic levels but still struggling


San Diegans have hopped on buses and trolleys in increasing numbers in recent months, though ridership numbers are still down sharply from the past decade.

In October, San Diego’s metropolitan transit system recorded more than 6.5 million trips, its highest monthly tally since the pandemic lockdown began in March 2020.

MTS had seen ridership as high as 7-8 million trips per month before the coronavirus brought the economy to a halt. Then it bottomed out at around 2.2 million in April 2020 before bouncing back to over 5 million trips per month two years later.

Transit officials said the opening of the Blue Line streetcar extension between downtown and University City has helped. Before the pandemic, bus ridership far exceeded tram ridership. Now they are largely on par, with the cart recently attracting a few more people.

However, these modest gains are overshadowed by steep reductions in ridership over the past decade. In October 2014, for example, MTS logged nearly 9.2 million rides.

The trend is one seen across California and the nation. Experts have pointed to a rapid increase in car ownership since then, especially among low-income households.

Emergency federal funding has kept public transit afloat since the pandemic began, but many agencies, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit, are now staring down the need for potentially deep service cuts.

MTS has received about $360 million in federal stimulus funds, having spent about $160 million so far. Officials said the agency — with an annual budget of about $300 million — can likely avoid any major service cuts until at least 2027.

“Ridership growth is close to pre-COVID levels and that has helped stretch stimulus funds,” spokesman Mark Olsen told the Union-Tribune recently. “At this time, MTS is focusing on traffic recovery strategies.”

According to the American Public Transportation Association, national transit ridership last year was less than half what it was in 2014 at its peak.


California Daily Newspapers

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