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SANDAG approves budget, extends free youth transit passes through June 2024

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

San Diegans under the age of 18 will still be able to ride public transit for free through June 2024, with funding coming from the San Diego Association of Governments' (SANDAG) Fiscal Year 2024 Budget passed Friday.

Among the 221 projects and programs funded in FY 2024 is the extension of the Youth Opportunity Pass — which gives people 18 and under access to unlimited free rides on the bus, Trolley, Coaster, and Sprinter — through June 2024.

"I am thrilled that the Youth Opportunity Passes are fully funded through June 2024," said SANDAG and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas. "They are not just a free ride. This program brings security and stability to the lives of students and youth and removes barriers so they can have access to education, work, and recreational activities that they would not have otherwise. I am committed to expanding this program to those age 24 and under."


The SANDAG Board of Directors approved its $1.2 billion budget for the San Diego region Friday, including $98.6 million in projected costs for the overall work program, $69.5 million for regional operations, and the annual portion of the capital program is projected to be $565.6 million, of which $129.4 million will be passed through to Caltrans District 11 and other local agencies.

SANDAG, together with Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and North County Transit District (NCTD), have distributed more than 40,000 Pronto cards around the San Diego region and more 150,000 Youth Pronto accounts are currently active.

"In the first year of the Youth Opportunity Pass program, the estimated number of youth riders using MTS services has more than tripled, from just over 9,000 riders per month last April to an estimated 32,000 youth riders this April," said MTS Acting Board Chair and San Diego Councilman Stephen Whitburn. "It's an astounding accomplishment in year one of the program.

"These riders are important to the prosperity of our transit system, and we're proud to be a vital bridge between youth and the opportunities that will build a brighter future for them," he said.

Since the start of the pass in 2022, youth around the San Diego region have taken more than six million rides.


"The Youth Opportunity Pass has provided youth throughout our region with expanded mobility options and is helping to create transit riders for life," said NCTD Board of Directors Chair Jewel Edson. "NCTD has seen a significant increase in new youth riders since the program launched and is excited to partner with SANDAG and MTS on the extension of this important benefit for our region's youth."

In 2022, the YOP was funded through a combination of federal funds — $6.13 million allocated through SANDAG and $1.5 million through the County of San Diego. In FY 2024, SANDAG has committed to extending the program with an additional $6.5 million.