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MTS Raising Fares To Close $10M Budget Shortfall

A San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus is seen in this undated photo.

Credit: Metropolitan Transit System

Above: A San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus is seen in this undated photo.

San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System is raising its fares and eliminating free trolley transfers next month in an effort to close a budget deficit of approximately $10 million.

On Sept. 1, the cost of a one-way bus trip will jump from $2.25 to $2.50. A standard day pass for all MTS routes will cost $6, up from the current $5, while a discounted monthly pass for seniors, the disabled and people on Medicare will go from $18 to $23.

The fare increases are expected to raise an additional $5 million per year. MTS spokesman Rob Schupp said this is the agency's first fare increase in nearly 10 years, and that operating costs have gone up over that time period by about 25%.

"When you have a budget deficit, we only have two choices really," Schupp said. "One is to either raise fares, or to reduce service. And all of the polling that we've done with our riders, they would much prefer a small increase in fares than for us to reduce service."

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While some transit riders will be paying more, many will be unaffected by the fare changes. Some may actually pay less, depending on how they buy their tickets. The cost of a single trolley ride will be unchanged at $2.50, while the cost of a standard monthly pass across MTS will also remain $72.

The cost of a monthly pass for youth is going down from $36 to $23, which is the new discount price for seniors, the disabled and Medicare recipients. MTS is also creating a new discounted day pass for those groups costing $3, and it is eliminating the agency's 2-day, 3-day, 4-day and 14-day passes.

Schupp said in addition to helping balance the MTS budget, the agency also sought to simplify its fare policy and make it align better with the North County Transit District (NCTD).

"It'll make it a lot easier for people to figure out what fare to buy," he said.

MTS board members recommended the fare update in December 2018. It received final approval from the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors in February 2019. The NCTD, which operates the COASTER, SPRINTER and other North County transit services, is also raising its fares, citing similar reasons.

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Colin Parent, executive director of the transit advocacy organization Circulate San Diego, said overall the fare increase was modest. But he said the elimination of free transfers between trolley lines was a step backward, and that most large cities offer free or discounted transfers on their transit systems.

"Not only is it unfair, but it's also going to deter more people who might choose to ride transit, especially occasional riders," Parent said. "The growth in transit ridership is going to come from people who already have access to a car. ... And those are the exact kind of people that are going to be deterred from riding transit with these barriers that add these extra costs when they need to make a transfer."

MTS already requires riders without a day or monthly pass to pay two separate fares when they transfer between bus routes, or between bus and trolley routes. Schupp said the elimination of free trolley-to-trolley transfers would affect a small number of people.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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