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San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

San Diego
Metropolitan Transit System
Locale San Diego County, California
Transit type

Multi-Modal regional transit
network consisting of:

Number of lines 3 daily light rail lines[1]
93 bus routes[1]
Number of stations 53 light rail stations
Daily ridership 251,200 weekday riders
(Q1 2013)[2]
Annual ridership 84.317 million (2012)[3]
Headquarters 1255 Imperial Avenue
Suite 1000
San Diego, CA
Website Metropolitan Transit System (MTS)
Began operation July 3, 1886; 129 years ago (1886-07-03)[4]

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) (or sometimes abbreviated SDMTS) 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 251,200 in the First Quarter of 2013.[2]

MTS is one of the oldest transit systems in Southern California, dating back as early as the 1880s.[4] Although the d/b/a names have changed over the years, the two modes of transportation – buses and light rail – have remained consistent over most of the past 125 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.[4]

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.[4]

Recent history

More recent developments at MTS are summarized below.[4]


  • MTS assumes control over National City Transit from the City of National City, amid the City's reluctance to implement findings of the COA, and retires its 600-series bus route 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 31, 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 beings 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.

Public transportation

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, First Transit, Inc., or Southland Transportation Services, with First Transit also providing paratransit services.

Light rail service

File:SDT Orange Line at 5th2.jpg
San Diego Trolley Model SD100s in Downtown San Diego. March 2008.
Main article: San Diego Trolley

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 operates on select days during mid-day: the heritage streetcar Silver Line. Special Event service used to operate for large events occurring at Qualcomm 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.[5]

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.[6]

The Blue Line was the initial line to enter into service in July 1981,[4] operating between San Ysidro and Downtown San Diego. The Orange Line began service in March 1986[4] 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[4] 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.[5] 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,[7] operating a 'clockwise loop' route around Downtown San Diego on select days during mid-day, and featuring a renovated PCC streetcar.[7]

Bus rapid transit service

Main articles: SuperLoop and MTS Rapid

MTS currently operates three bus rapid transit (BRT) lines (Routes 201, 202 and 204) branded as "SuperLoop". The SuperLoop lines operate 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 March 2013.[8]

MTS also operates three BRT lines branded as MTS Rapid. 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.[9][10] 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 Rancho Bernardo via Mira Mesa. Both of these routes began operation in October 2014.[10]

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.[9][10] An additional line, Route 270, operates Rapid Express-type service Monday through Friday, linking suburban areas Sorrento Valley and Rancho Bernardo. Unlike the other Rapid Express lines, small, local-transit style vehicles are used for this commuter express service.

Commuter and express bus service

Eight express fixed-route bus lines (Routes 20, 50, 60, 110, 150, 170, 870, and 950) are operated along major roadways and highways and link intermediate distant suburban areas to the San Diego urban area. Five of the eight express lines (Routes 60, 110, 170, 870, and 950) 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

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.[11]

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

Rural bus service

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

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

Connecting public transit services include the BREEZE bus, SPRINTER light rail, and COASTER commuter rail services operated by the North County Transit District (NCTD). 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.


Effective 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.

San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway

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

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "About SDMTS". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  2. ^ a b "APTA - Transit Ridership Report - First Quarter 2013 - Light Rail" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). May 24, 2013. p. 13. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  3. ^ "APTA - Transit Ridership Report - Fourth Quarter 2012 - Light Rail" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 1, 2013. p. 13. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "MTS Historical Timeline". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  5. ^ a b "SDMTS Service Changes, September 2012". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 2012-09-02. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  6. ^ "APTA – Ridership Report Archives". American Public Transportation Association's (APTA). 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  7. ^ a b "San Diego Vintage Trolley - Home". San Diego Vintage Trolley, Inc. August 6, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  8. ^ "Public Transit SuperLoop". San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Retrieved 2015-02-05. 
  9. ^ a b "Rapid bus service opens along I-15". San Diego Source The Daily Transcript. June 6, 2014. Retrieved 2015-02-05. 
  10. ^ a b c "About Rapid". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved 2015-02-05. 
  11. ^ Route 7 Timetables (pdf)
  12. ^ "Take One Notice, December 15, 2007–January 15, 2008" (PDF). San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  13. ^ "Fares and Day Passes". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  14. ^ "June 2009 Service Changes". San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 

External links