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Community advocates applaud long-awaited free youth public transportation

Bennett Lacy / KPBS
People wait to board the trolley at the Nobel Drive Trolley Station in La Jolla, Calif. Nov. 21, 2021.

Beginning next week, riding public transit in San Diego will be a lot cheaper for youth under 18. In fact, it will be as cheap as it gets – totally free.

All youth with a Youth PRONTO account app or card will get unlimited free rides on buses, the Trolley, the COASTER and SPRINTER.

The Youth Opportunity Pass pilot program is the latest effort by the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) in partnership to make transit more accessible and equitable for historically underserved communities.


Youth and their advocates have been fighting for free youth transit for a decade. They are eager to see how this pilot program impacts lower-income families, said Ariana Federico, lead organizer with Mid-City CAN, a City Heights-based advocacy organization.

“It is a burden having to choose what to pay for, like if it’s for groceries or if you’re paying for public transportation,” she said. “We really see a youth opportunity pass as support for young people, for their families and for our communities.”

That support is something Ana Gonzalez, a member of Mid-City CAN and mother of three children under the age of 18, is looking forward to.

As a full time housekeeper, she’s often traveling throughout the county at the same time that her children need to get to their after school enrichment programs.


“If I am working they can take public transportation and I don’t have to worry about if they have money or not or if I have time to take them to those activities,” Gonzalez said. “Right now we have to save as much as we can because of the gas prices.”

Times like now, when gas prices and inflation are reaching all-time highs, show how programs like this are not just for low-income communities, Gonzalez said.

“I see this as a big win for all the students because sometimes people can believe that it's only for low income students, but this is for all the students in San Diego,” she said.

Mid-City CAN is hosting a celebration and informational event today at the City Heights Public Library to recognize the community’s organizing efforts and help families sign up for the program.

For more information on how to sign up check out SANDAG’s step-by-step explainer.

Community advocates applaud long-awaited free youth public transportation