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Quality of Life

MTS To Launch Diversion Program Tuesday, Reducing Fines For Fare Evaders

A man with a face covering exits an MTS trolley at the Old Town transit center, May 7, 2020.
Mike Damron
A man with a face covering exits an MTS trolley at the Old Town transit center, May 7, 2020.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System will begin a pilot program Tuesday to reduce fines and allow fare violators new options for clearing their citations.

Passengers will still be required to have a valid fare while riding, but any citations MTS issues on or after Sept. 1 will qualify under the new program guidelines.

"Our goal is to be flexible in our fare enforcement efforts so that riders have an opportunity to purchase a fare or to correct their fine without a criminal process," said Nathan Fletcher, MTS board chair and San Diego County supervisor. "Bringing the citation payment process in-house to MTS rather than straight to the courts will help our passengers avoid burdensome court fees. But more importantly, it will allow MTS staff to educate passengers on what payment options are available."


The MTS board approved the diversionary program on June 18 after criticism rose during the pandemic that the transit authority was saddling poorer people with unfair burdens. MTS has reported for several years that it has a fare evasion rate of 3%, but system staff estimate that MTS will lose close to $1 million annually for every percentage point that rate goes up.

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The Fare Enforcement Diversion Program will offer:

— Reduced fines/more payment locations: Citations will be reduced to $25. A person will have 120 days to pay the fine to MTS in-person or by mail;

— Community service option: An option of providing three hours of community service in lieu of payment will also be included in the new policy. Community service can be done through the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank or a Homeless Court Program Provider such as Father Joe's Villages. According to Fletcher, MTS is currently working to add more community service locations during the pilot period;


— Limited appeal window: Passengers will also have the option of appealing the fare violation within 15 days of the citation if they can demonstrate they have been wrongly ticketed. An example provided is not having a fare due to a malfunctioning ticket vending machine.

— Civil Process: During the pilot, only citations that are not paid within 120 days will proceed to the courts, where substantial fees may be added to the fines — $177.50 or more, according to MTS.

Pre-COVID-19, around 33% of the MTS annual budget, or around $100 million, relied on fare revenue.

People who board MTS trolleys or buses without a fare will be given an opportunity to deboard and purchase a fare.

MTS continues to operate about 95 bus routes and three trolley lines. Officials said frequencies and spans have been restored to near-pre-COVID-19 levels.