Will Free Rides, WiFi Get San Diegans to Ride Mass Transit?

NBC 7 Responds looked at two new programs that are trying to make mass transit more attractive to San Diegans

NBC Universal, Inc.

When was the last time you rode a bus? Most adults haven't been on one in years, but there's a new push to try to get people to use mass transit.

"The pandemic has really shifted a lot of people's understanding about where they work, when they travel, how they get around," said Colin Parent, executive director of Circulate San Diego.

Parent said there had been a decline in public transit ridership even before the pandemic, mostly because of rideshare companies, but he thinks mass transit will be more attractive to tourists as MTS rolls out a new payment system in September.

"The new transit payment system is really easy to access from cell phones," Parent said. "It's going to have a really clear and easy-to-understand fare-payment structure."

The new system is named Pronto and will completely replace the Compass Card and Cloud systems. If you download the app now, MTS says it will give users a free pass for the entire month of September.

"More expensive transit means fewer people will take it as a regular commuting option," Parent said.

But a change to the pricing and payment system isn't the only way MTS is trying to attract more commuters. WiFi has been installed on 10 buses as part of a pilot program. If it goes well, the system could be expanded to all MTS buses.

"We want to make sure these buses go all around the city, and we're able to test the connectivity," said Grecia Sigueroa, a marketing specialist at MTS.

The idea is that people in a hurry can be productive on their commute instead of driving through rush hour.

"Specifically for people who are running from one place to another, like going from work, going to school," Sigueroa said, "they can use that time they're in the bus to get work done, send emails, do homework. I think this is going to be important and very useful for many of them."

Some rideshare users we spoke to said programs like WiFi might make them more likely to use mass transit systems.

"It makes a difference," said Brook Knight, who uses mass transit for sporting events. "It gives people the opportunity to stay connected while going to or from work or the game."

Others told us they had lingering worries about cleanliness or safety on public transit, or simply liked being able to park closer to their destination. Read more here about how MTS says it is cleaning buses, machine, and trains to keep people safe during the pandemic.

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