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Coronavirus Prompts MTS To Put 2020 Tax Measure On Hold

A new battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard, Oct. 22, 2019.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: A new battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard, Oct. 22, 2019.

The Metropolitan Transit System on Thursday halted long-standing plans to place a sales tax measure on the November 2020 ballot, as it shifts focus to dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

MTS has been exploring the possibility of a tax measure for more than a year. Officials had proposed increasing bus and trolley frequencies, adding new rapid bus services, offering free transit passes to youth and planning for future expansions of the trolley network.

The transit agency even commissioned polling, which suggested the tax increase was close to receiving the necessary two-thirds majority from voters to pass. But tax increases tend to fare poorly during recessions, and transit officials are dealing with a historic disruption to their ridership and funding sources.

RELATED: MTS Leaders Discuss Possibilities For Transit Ballot Measure

"The day will come when we can ask voters for additional revenue for the expanded transit system San Diego deserves," County Supervisor and MTS board chairman Nathan Fletcher said in a press release. "Right now, MTS needs to be focused on providing the essential service of transit. Then we will focus on the rebuilding effort, and getting residents back to work and school."

MTS reduced its bus and trolley frequencies on Monday to more closely match current ridership, which has plummeted under the state's stay-at-home order. Overall the agency is anticipating a loss of $33.5 million in the current fiscal year, and a loss of $100 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

However, funding for transit agencies included in the federal stimulus bill, the CARES Act, could more than make up for those losses, with MTS expecting to receive $220 million in relief funding.

MTS board members Thursday also approved $100 million in new spending on capital projects, including $26 million to purchase seven new low-floor trolleys; $33 million to purchase 69 compressed natural gas buses; and $12.5 million to purchase new electric bus chargers and fund operations of MTS' electric bus pilot program.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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