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Free transit rides offered to youth across San Diego County this school year

Hoover High School senior Karina Sandoval has been riding public transit since 9th grade.

“It was getting kind of really expensive every month having to pay $25 and also just keeping up,'' she said.

Sandoval said expired fares made her miss classes and even a test. But the new, free youth opportunity pass has solved those problems and expanded her world.

“I did an internship in Chula Vista and because I was able to have the youth opportunity pass I was able to (ride) buses — and I had to take the trolley and then more buses,” she said. “Without the youth opportunity pass it would have been so expensive and I wouldn't have been able to do the internship at all.”

The SANDAG Youth Opportunity Pass program offers completely free rides on buses, the Trolley, the COASTER and SPRINTER for those 18 and under.

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Jacob Aere
/
KPBS
A MTS bus drives along University Avenue in City Heights, Aug. 26, 2022.

The program began on May 1, providing free rides in the Metropolitan Transit System and North County Transit District.

Ariana Federico Mondragon is with the group Mid-City CAN, which advocated for the free passes.

“This really does give them an opportunity to really be part of their community, to get to know San Diego. But also it alleviates that financial burden that we did see families have,” she said.

For youth to take advantage of the free rides, they need a Youth PRONTO app account, or a PRONTO Youth card. Those cards are being distributed at the transit store and at some schools, according to MTS CEO Sharon Cooney.

“So ridership is already up. It's up 55% from last year, and that's overall. But with the youth opportunity pass, in May when we instituted it, we saw an increase of 34% of youth using our transit system,” Cooney said.

The Youth Opportunity Pass pilot program is the latest effort by SANDAG to improve mass transit and make it more accessible and equitable for historically underserved communities.

The program will run through June 30, 2023.

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