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MTS Offers Free Rides Amid Switch To New 'PRONTO' Card

MTS public relations manager Mark Olson holds up a new PRONTO card, Aug. 10, 2021.
Matthew Bowler
MTS public relations manager Mark Olson holds up a new PRONTO card, Aug. 10, 2021.

The Metropolitan Transit System is offering free bus and trolley rides for all of September to passengers who switch to the new fare payment system PRONTO.

The month of free rides extends to the North County Transit District's SPRINTER light rail line and BREEZE bus system. The transition to PRONTO, which has been years in the making, will phase out the old Compass Card and Compass Cloud app by the end of September.

MTS Offers Free Rides Amid Switch To New ‘PRONTO’ Card
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen

"The technology has gotten outdated and there's been new things that have come along to really help the passenger experience," said MTS spokesman Mark Olson.

RELATED: MTS Considering A ‘Kinder And Gentler’ Approach To Fare Enforcement

While the Compass Card stored a passenger's passes on the physical card, the PRONTO card stores it all on the cloud. This allows a more seamless integration with the PRONTO smartphone app.

One of the biggest improvements in the new system is a pay-as-you-go function called fare capping. That allows passengers to pay for trips with individual fares, and when they've spent the equivalent of a daily or monthly pass, the rest of the rides for that day or month are free.

"It's one less thing that our customers need to worry about," Olson said. "They're never going to pay more than a day pass in a given day or a monthly pass in a given month.

RELATED: MTS To Lower Youth Fares, Bring Back Free Transfers On Busses And Trolleys

Kierra Key, who picked up her PRONTO card Tuesday at the H Street Transit Center in Chula Vista, said she was looking forward to the expanded locations where passengers can load cash or passes onto their PRONTO cards.

"One of the things that was really inconvenient about the Compass Cards was loading them," Key said. "If you weren't at a trolley station, you had to go to certain stores. So I think PRONTO will be a little bit more readily available for people that aren't mobile."

Video: San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Rolls Out New Fare Payment System

While fare capping can save passengers money, it's also likely to reduce fare revenue for MTS. Earlier this year, MTS proposed raising fares to help offset those costs, but scrapped the plan amid an outcry from passengers. It ultimately lowered fares for youth and brought back free transfers between bus and trolley routes.

MTS is holding dozens of outreach events at bus and trolley stations this month to distribute the new PRONTO cards. The new mobile app can be downloaded starting Aug. 16.