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Quality of Life

Just months after launch, South Bay rapid bus line survives campaign to get rid of it

A new express bus line in the South Bay has survived a campaign to get rid of it, just months after the route went into service.

The Rapid 227 electric bus line, which connects the Otay Mesa Port of Entry and Imperial Beach, has faced a blooming debate in the small waterfront city. Dozens of residents there said they were frustrated by the arrival of new noise and street traffic and accused county transit authorities of not doing enough to consult with the neighborhood.

The bus also drew passionate support from dozens of other Imperial Beach residents, along with a number of community advocates and city officials. They said the new bus line was an essential resource for binational commuters and students and argued it was far too soon to consider winding it down.


After a lengthy public hearing last month, the Imperial Beach City Council said they would support keeping the bus line in place. They recommended transit authorities consider shifting the route slightly so it would be less disruptive to some neighborhoods.

Advocates and many residents celebrated the decision.

“We believe that it's going to provide a lot of benefits for our South Bay communities,” said transit advocate Randy Torres-Van Vleck. “It's a lifeline for our communities to get around, participate in the economy, get across the border, get to school, get to resources, and get to the beach.”

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, or MTS, first launched the Rapid 227 line in October 2023 in an effort to make it easier to commute between the South Bay and Tijuana.

The bus route is an express line, meaning it runs every 15 minutes during rush hour and makes limited stops on the way. MTS also touted the route as its first all-electric rapid line, a major step toward the agency’s plans to electrify its fleet over the next two decades.


Many Imperial Beach residents said the bus line made a big difference, cutting down commute times and letting people partly bypass the tangles of traffic that often clog the ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But others were frustrated. Just weeks after the route went into service, a chorus of residents on 3rd Street began complaining the new buses were disrupting their quality of life by bringing noise and bright lights into their neighborhood, which had no bus routes before.

In November, city and MTS representatives held a neighborhood meeting on 3rd Street. Around 60 people showed up, according to notes from city staff. Residents said MTS didn’t spend enough time reaching out to them and wanted to know if it would be possible to move the route away from their street.

A number of people also accused the Rapid 227 of having low ridership, calling it the “ghost bus.” They began pushing for officials to go further and eliminate the line altogether.

The Imperial Beach waterfront is pictured on Feb. 29, 2024. The Rapid 227 bus route, which connects Imperial Beach and the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, has faced a blooming debate in the small, waterfront city.
Kori Suzuki for KPBS / California Local
The Imperial Beach waterfront is pictured on Feb. 29, 2024.

That debate built to a City Council meeting last month, when MTS staff came to share their first numbers on how many people were using the new bus route and to get a recommendation from city leaders on what to do next.

Dozens came to share their support for the bus route. Denise Ramos, an Imperial Beach resident and member of the advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said she uses the line to get to work.

“It’s very important for working people because it enables us to move faster and in a safe manner,” Ramos told the City Council through a translator. “Please give it a chance and let the public decide.”

Ramos was joined by advocates from other organizations, including the Environmental Health Coalition and San Diego Climate Action Network.

“Our communities have been on the backburner in receiving our fair share of regional investments,” said Torres-Van Vleck. “I urge the council to commit to working with MTS to find a resolution.”

Ten residents opposed the route, with many of them calling for officials to get rid of the buses entirely.

“There are many many, much too many,” said resident Denise Guntrum. “We have two routes already that I think service Imperial Beach, our small, 4-square-mile city. And I think that is perfectly fine.”

MTS staff said more than 1,000 people had been riding the bus on weekdays since October. They also found that most of those people were getting on and getting off between the Otay Mesa Transit Center and the Iris Avenue Transit Center, with a smaller fraction of riders using the bus in Imperial Beach.

MTS also admitted that the agency is experiencing “technological limitations” with its electric buses and is still relying on older, nonelectric models to support the route.

But the agency said it usually takes 12 to 18 months for a new bus line to reach its full ridership and that the recent storms had probably kept passenger numbers lower than normal. They also said they expect the Imperial Beach section of the route to be much busier in the summer as people head to the beach.

After a long discussion, the Imperial Beach City Council recommended against eliminating the Rapid 227 line. But they said MTS should consider moving part of the line off of the quieter 3rd Street and onto 9th Street, a busier corridor with existing bus routes.

A key supporter of the new bus route was Mayor Paloma Aguirre, who said she relied on public transportation growing up and going to school. Aguirre also said she believes the bus route will help bring new life to the city’s beaches.

A local environmental group is preparing to take the International Boundary and Water Commission to court over repeated failures to corral the San Diego region's cross-border sewage problem. The situation may lead to the revival of other lawsuits settled a year ago.

Imperial Beach’s coastline has been largely closed off because of Tijuana’s broken sewage system, which is flushing pollution into the estuary and the ocean. But the mayor said she is hopeful the city will be able to reopen its beaches next year. The Rapid 227 line, she said, will give tourists crossing the border an easy way to come visit the city.

But Aguirre also asked MTS to do a better job engaging with the city.

“We’re in this situation, we’ll call it, because the residents on 3rd (Street) didn’t receive notification,” she said. “I would strongly encourage MTS staff to do so — and do it meaningfully, whether that means sending an individual letter to each household on 9th (Street).”