The Metropolitan Transit System's Board of Directors approved a change to its fare policies Thursday, including a reduction of youth fares and free transfers for the bus and trolley.
The MTS Board of Directors forwarded a recommendation to the San Diego Associations of Governments to make changes to the Regional Comprehensive Fare Ordinance which include reducing youth one-way fares from $2.50 to $1.25 and allowing free transfers for one-way fares within two hours of the first boarding.
"I support this Fare Ordinance Recommendation because it prevents us from raising fares at a time that our ridership is just 47% of our pre-pandemic level and makes changes to boost ridership," said Vivian Moreno, MTS board member and San Diego City Councilwoman. "Growing our ridership is how MTS will recover from the pandemic. Free transfers will help us boost ridership by making our transit system more attractive to occasional or first-time riders."
SANDAG is responsible for establishing the Regional Comprehensive Fare Ordinance, and as part of this responsibility, periodically performs a Regional Transit Fare Structure Study in conjunction with the transit operators.
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According to the fare study, the proposed fee changes will reduce regional annual passenger revenue by $4.3 million -- using pre-COVID-19 ridership and fare revenue -- but that will be offset through Fiscal Year 2024 with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan funding. MTS alone stands to lose $3.6 million with the fare reduction.
The MTS board-approved changes also include adopting a "best fare" functionality to avoid overcharging riders.
In 2020, SANDAG, North County Transit District and MTS staffs worked together to further analyze the impacts of the ``best fare'' and reducing Youth one-way fares from $2.50 to $1.25 to match the reduced fares of seniors, disabled and people receiving Medicare benefits. NCTD will lose $360,000 annually with the fare reduction.
Circulate San Diego, a regional nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing mobility, applauded the MTS Board's decision.
"MTS made the right decision to allow bus and trolley riders to seamlessly transfer with the price of a one-way fare," said Colin Parent, executive director and general counsel with Circulate San Diego. "Free transfers make transit easier to access, and fairer for riders that take more than one bus or trolley to get where they're going."
Circulate claims MTS is one of only two of the 20 largest transit agencies in the United States to not provide free or reduced-price transfers.
The move Thursday by MTS also has a backup plan once federal COVID-19 money runs out. It presents the option to increase adult one-way tickets from $2.50 to $2.75 in 2025, among other revenue-increasing options.
If approved by the NCTD Boards of Directors, the SANDAG Transportation Committee will hold two public hearings in April to approve the fare policy changes. MTS would subsequently adopt formal policy changes to amend its fare enforcement policy.