San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

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San Diego
Metropolitan Transit System
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (logo).svg
LocaleSan Diego County, California
Transit typeMulti-Modal regional transit
network consisting of:
Number of lines3 daily light rail lines[1]
93 bus routes[1]
Number of stations53 light rail stations
Daily ridership271,500 weekday riders
(Q4 2017)
Annual ridership94.920 million (2017)[2]
Chief executivePaul Jablonski
Headquarters1255 Imperial Avenue
Suite 1000
San Diego, CA
WebsiteMetropolitan Transit System (MTS)
Began operationJuly 3, 1886; 133 years ago (1886-07-03)[3]
Operator(s)San Diego Transit Corporation
First Transit
San Diego Trolley, Inc. (light rail)
MTS bus operating in Chula Vista, CA.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (typically abbreviated as SDMTS or simply MTS) is the public transit service provider for Central, South, Northeast and Southeast San Diego County, in the United States. MTS operating subsidiaries include the San Diego Trolley, Incorporated (SDTI), and San Diego Transit Corporation (SDTC). Average daily ridership among all public transit services provided by MTS was 271,500 in the Fourth Quarter of 2017.[4]

MTS is one of the oldest transit systems in Southern California, dating back as early as the 1880s,[3] although the d/b/a names have changed over the years.

MTS owns the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway (SD&AE); and the San Diego Vintage Trolley, Incorporated.[1]

MTS also licenses and regulates taxicabs, jitneys, and other private for-hire passenger transportation services provided by contract for the cities of San Diego, El Cajon, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Poway and Santee.[1]


MTS is a joint powers authority agency, or JPA. Member cities include San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, El Cajon, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City, Poway, Santee, and San Diego County. Elected officials from each jurisdiction, including San Diego County, serve as the Board of Directors.[1] The city of San Diego has the most representation with four members.[1] A county resident is elected by the Board of Directors to serve as the Chairman.[1]



A system of horse- or mule-drawn street cars was established in Downtown San Diego in 1886. In 1887 electric street car service was begun, serving a more widespread area including Old Town and University Heights. The direct ancestor of MTS, the San Diego Electric Railway Company, was founded in 1891 by John D. Spreckels. Spreckels purchased several existing transit companies and converted them all to electric operation. In the 1920s and 1930s the rail lines began to be replaced by motor buses. In 1949 the last rail service was discontinued, making San Diego the first major city in California to convert to an all-bus system.[3]

In 1948 Jesse Haugh purchased the system from Spreckels and renamed it the San Diego Transit System. The system was purchased by the City of San Diego in 1967. MTDB was formed in 1976 and launched the San Diego Trolley in 1981. The San Diego Transit system of bus lines was transferred from the city to MTDB in 1985. MTDB changed its logo to Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) in 1986.[3] Today, the agency is one of two child agencies of SANDAG, the county-level MPO that zones land and sets the transit fares.

Recent history[edit]

More recent developments at MTS are summarized below.[3]


  • MTS adopts its current logo and livery, which was first applied to buses entering service that summer.


  • MTS assumes control over National City Transit from the City of National City, amid the City's reluctance to implement findings of the COA, retires its 600-series bus route numbers, and replaces them with the current 960-series numbers.


  • MTS is named the Outstanding Public Transit System for 2009 by the American Public Transportation Association.
  • In fiscal year 2009, MTS set a record for ridership with over 92 million rides from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.
  • September 24: San Diego Trolley places an order for 57 Ultra Short Low Floor Model S70 LRVs, at a total cost of $205 million.


  • San Diego Trolley begins construction on the "Trolley Renewal Project". The project is expected to last five years and renovates all stations and existing infrastructure to handle the new Low Floor S70 LRVs purchased the previous year.


  • MTS begins work on a study to evaluate the feasibility of reconnecting Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and Downtown San Diego through a fixed-guideway, electrified streetcar line.
  • MTS begins weekend and holiday service of the Silver Line, which operates around Downtown San Diego and features renovated PCC streetcars with a partnership with the San Diego historic streetcar society.


  • MTS receives first two shipments of 4th generation trolley vehicles and begins operating exclusively new LRVs on the Green Line
  • MTS realigns trolley system so all three lines terminate in downtown, eliminating the need for the special event line. The green line now serves special events.


  • Low floor (S70) trains operate on the Orange Line for the first time, marking the end of the first phase of the trolley renewal project.
  • First of the next-gemeration Gillig Low Floor buses arrive and are placed into service
  • First buses for the BRT network arrive


  • The first line in the Rapid BRT network goes into operation.


  • Low floor (S70) trains operate on the Blue Line for the first time in January, after new station platforms, advanced electronic signage, overhead catenary wires, larger shelters and track replacements are implemented.[5]


  • the Transit Optimization Plan (TOP) is adopted


  • Additional low floor trolley cars (S700) are delivered.


  • January 26:The South Bay Rapid entered service between Downtown San Diego and the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
  • April 20: New trolley cars (5000-series) enter service[6]
  • July 13: Original car 1001 enters service on Silver Line
  • August: Electric buses to enter service

Public transportation[edit]

MTS administers several public transportation services, including the San Diego Trolley's three daily Light rail lines, 93 fixed-route bus services,[1] and paratransit service. About half of its fixed-route bus services are contracted out to Transdev, and First Transit, with First Transit also providing paratransit services.

Light rail service[edit]

San Diego Trolley Model SD100s in Downtown San Diego. March 2008.

Light rail service is operated by the San Diego Trolley, Incorporated (SDTI). It is commonly referred to as "The Trolley". Three daily lines are operated, and are designated by their colors: the Blue Line, the Green Line, and the Orange Line; a fourth line, the heritage streetcar Silver Line, operates on select days during mid-day. Special Event service used to operate for large events occurring at SDCCU Stadium, Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center via a special event Red Line, but the Red Line was eliminated with the Trolley system's realignment in September 2012.[7]

Light rail service provided by MTS is among the most utilized systems in terms of patronage in the United States. Generally, approximately 120,000 people have ridden the Trolley each weekday over the past two years.[8]

The Blue Line was the initial line to enter into service in July 1981,[3] operating between San Ysidro and Downtown San Diego. The Orange Line began service in March 1986[3] linking eastern suburban areas such as El Cajon and La Mesa to Downtown San Diego as well. The Green Line began service in July 2005[3] and included the system's first underground station located at San Diego State University; it began operation to downtown San Diego as of the September 2012 realignment.[7] The Green Line now operates between Santee & El Cajon, and Mission Valley, Old Town, and the 12th & Imperial Transit Center in Downtown San Diego. The heritage streetcar Silver Line began service in August 2011,[9] operating a 'clockwise loop' route around Downtown San Diego on select days during mid-day, and featuring a renovated PCC streetcar.[9]

Bus rapid transit service[edit]

MTS initially operated three bus rapid transit (BRT) lines (Routes 201, 202 and 204) branded as "SuperLoop". The SuperLoop lines operated in the University City and La Jolla Village area serving the University of California, San Diego, Westfield UTC, Veteran's Administration Hospital, and residential districts, using 40-foot buses. Initial Superloop service began in June 2009, with an extension in March 2013.[10]

SuperLoop was incorporated into the Rapid network, which now has 9 routes. Route 235 is a transit service between Escondido and Santa Fe Depot operating along SR-94 and the Interstate 15 corridor. It opened for service in June 2014.[11][12] This route uses 60-foot articulated buses. Route 215 operates from Downtown San Diego to San Diego State University via City Heights. Route 237 operates on a route from UCSD to Miramar College Transit Station via Mira Mesa. Both of these routes began operation in October 2014.[12] Route 237 operates peak hours only, as local route 921a serves the entire route off-peak, late night, weekends and major holidays.

The SuperLoop was incorporated into the Rapid brand in 2015. The routes are the same, but are now designed as feeders to Route 237.

During peak hours, two additional "Rapid Express" lines, Routes 280 and 290, operate along SR-163 and Interstate 15, between Downtown San Diego and Escondido and Rancho Bernardo, respectively. Over-the-road 45 foot coaches are used for this service. Service began on both routes in June 2014.[11][12]

Route 225 operates to the South Bay area, serving Otay Ranch and Eastlake, continuing to the international truck crossing at Otay Mesa.

Commuter and express bus service[edit]

Six express fixed-route bus lines (Routes 20, 50, 60, 110, 150, and 950) are operated along major roadways and highways and link intermediate distant suburban areas to the San Diego urban area. Two of the six express lines (Routes 60 and 110) only operate during the morning and evening weekday commute periods. Vehicles used for service are typically standard 40-foot buses or 60-foot articulated buses.

Urban and local bus service[edit]

MTS transdev bus

Urban bus routes link the densely populated neighborhoods and adjacent cities together with direct and frequent bus service. These services constitute the bulk of fixed-route bus services operated in terms of vehicle requirements and patronage. Typically, headways are 12–15 minutes between scheduled bus arrival/departure times during commute periods and during midday times on the busiest lines. Generally, no worse than 30-minute headways occur during non-commute periods or 60-minute headways weekends. Local routes generally have stops placed every block or every other block. Limited-stop lines have stops placed every approximately quarter to half mile. Major arterial roads in the City Heights and North Park area of San Diego have both types of routes available, providing for more frequent service. Articulated buses are used during the summer on weekends on lines such as Route 30 to provide extra access to the beaches and tourist destinations. Route 7 utilizes articulated buses along University Ave due to it being the busiest bus route in San Diego.[13]

Local routes and shuttle services are also operated by MTS. These typically operate less frequently or have a shorter routes.

Rural bus service[edit]

Rural transit services (Routes 888, 891/892 and 894) link the sparsely populated central and eastern portions of San Diego County to the San Diego urban core. Each rural service is linked to the San Diego Trolley and other fixed-route transit services at the El Cajon Transit Center. These lines offer much less frequent service – Route 888 only operates on Mondays and Fridays, Route 891 on Fridays only, and Route 892 on Thursdays only; only Route 894 operates Mondays through Fridays.

Paratransit service[edit]

Paratransit services, operated under the name "MTS Access" provide point-to-point service upon request to passengers registered with MTS as being qualified for assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service is available throughout the MTS service area, and connections to a similar NCTD service are also available.

Vehicles are sixteen-passenger van conversions equipped with wheelchair lifts and tiedowns. Twelve of the sixteen seats are collapsible, allowing space for up to 4 wheelchairs. Fares are $4.50 each way, though passengers are allowed to bring one companion (as a PCA, or Personal Care Assistant) free of charge. Additional fare-paying companions are also permitted.

Connecting transit services[edit]

Connecting public transit services include the BREEZE bus, SPRINTER light rail, and COASTER commuter rail services operated by the North County Transit District (NCTD) and bus route 217 operated by Riverside Transit. Amtrak operates several weekday and weekend train services (Pacific Surfliner) out of the downtown San Diego Santa Fe Depot. Some bus services enter the United States from Tijuana, Mexico.


On January 1, 2008, MTS raised fares and eliminated transfer passes for some fixed-route bus services. The regular passenger fare for each boarding increased from $1.75–$2.25 per boarding to a maximum $2–$2.25 per boarding depending on the route. The Monthly Pass increased from $60 to $64.[14]

Although the cash fare increase was modest, $0.25, the elimination of free 2-hour Transfer Passes was controversial.[citation needed] This impacted infrequent cash fare paying riders using multiple bus routes to complete their trip the most because each boarding requires the full fare be paid. As a response, MTS encouraged riders to purchase a $5 Daily Pass for access on the whole system as it is approximately the same cost as the total would be for a round trip utilizing a single bus for each direction and paying the single ride fare each time. A second option was to consider purchasing a $64 Monthly Pass.

Effective January 1, 2009, MTS set fares for the San Diego Trolley at $1.25 for up to two hours within downtown San Diego, and $2.50 for all other one-way trolley service. Seniors (ages 60 and over), people with disabilities and Medicare cardholders pay 60 cents and $1.25 respectively. Further, the Monthly Pass increased from $64 to $68, with the youth pass at $34 and seniors/disabled/Medicare pass at $17. While the adult Premium Monthly Pass (including travel on $5 premium express buses) remained at $90, new $45 youth and $22.50 senior/disabled/Medicare premium monthly passes were introduced.[15]

Effective July 1, 2009, MTS eliminated the downtown zone fare category for the San Diego Trolley. As a result, the regular passenger fare for all one-way trips on the trolley became $2.50 regardless of origin or destination point; seniors, people with disabilities, and Medicare cardholders pay just $1.25 each. MTS also increased the passenger fare for shuttle bus routes to $2.25 ($1.10 senior/disabled/Medicare). All other single-ride cash fares remain unchanged. The cost of an ordinary 1-day pass also remained at $5, but the cost of a 1-day RegionPlus pass increased from $11 to $14. MTS also increased the prices of all monthly passes (e.g. from $68 to $72 for a regular 30-day adult pass) and began selling 14-day passes, which replace the half-month passes.[16]

No passes are accepted by MTS Access paratransit buses; however, prepaid tickets are available in books of 10.

Effective May 1, 2010, MTS passes will only be available on the Compass Card, which is a smart chip enabled transit card.

Kids below 6 ride free with fare-paying passenger; limit is 3.

In March 2017, MTS introduced a mobile ticketing app dubbed Compass Cloud. The app allows riders to purchase one day or 30 day passes for both MTS and NCTD. As of August 2019, the app does not allow purchase of a single ride, although that feature is planned.[17]

On February 8, 2019, SANDAG voted in favor of increasing all regular and most Rapid bus fares to $2.50 and Rural buses to $8.[18] Rapid Express fares remain at $5 as part of the new structure, whilst the 24-Hour pass increases to $6 from $5. The changes went into effect on September 1.[19]

San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway[edit]

San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway is a division of MTS; however, it does not operate public transit service. Instead, the division manages and leases the tracks for freight service to two freight operators.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "About SDMTS". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  2. ^ "2017 APTA Fact Book" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 2018. p. 34. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "MTS Historical Timeline". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  4. ^ "APTA - Transit Ridership Report - Fourth Quarter 2017" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 13, 2018. p. 13. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  5. ^ "Blue Line Upgraded with a New Fleet of Low-Floor Trolley Cars" (Press release). MTS. January 27, 2015. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  6. ^ Elkalla, Mimi (April 17, 2019). "MTS unveils brand new trolley cars expected to be in service this weekend". 10News. Scripps Media Group. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "SDMTS Service Changes, September 2012". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. September 2, 2012. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  8. ^ "APTA – Ridership Report Archives". American Public Transportation Association's (APTA). 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "San Diego Vintage Trolley - Home". San Diego Vintage Trolley, Inc. August 6, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  10. ^ "Public Transit SuperLoop". San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Rapid bus service opens along I-15". San Diego Source The Daily Transcript. June 6, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c "About Rapid". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  13. ^ Route 7 Timetables (pdf)
  14. ^ "Take One Notice, December 15, 2007–January 15, 2008" (pdf). San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  15. ^ "Fares and Day Passes". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  16. ^ "June 2009 Service Changes". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  17. ^ "Compass Cloud". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  18. ^ "Regional Transit Fare Ordinance". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. October 3, 2018.
  19. ^ "Fare Change - Sept. 1, 2019". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. July 11, 2019.

External links[edit]