The Future of Public Transportation in San Diego

The Metropolitan Transport System (MTS) in San Diego has recently faced pressure due to budget cuts and other measures by the local government, but the benefits of public transit are specific and varied. In order for the city to thrive with improved air quality, a decrease in traffic congestion and smarter use of all natural resources, effective and efficient use of public transportation is a prerequisite. Unfortunately, the future of public transportation in San Diego is not necessarily assured, as continued budget cuts depress the overall service levels and have caused alterations in routes and in fares. Fortunately, due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), there is more flexibility in the use of federal transportation funds for ongoing operational use instead of the capital projects they were earmarked for in the past.

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Benefits of Public Transportation

Public transportation is considered a critical answer to the equation of our nation’s environmental challenges, as well as energy and economic problems as well as improving our overall quality of life. There is a common belief that more public transportation will lead to less people on the roads under the influence of alcohol as well. More individuals are willing to utilize public transportation as long as it is easy and convenient and cost-effective to do so. A significant portion of society can benefit from enhanced public transportation, including businesses, families, individuals and even communities because it can provide freedom and personal mobility for people from all walks of life–allowing individuals without personal transportation to go to the doctor’s office, a friend’s house, to work or to school. It can also save a great deal of money by beating the high costs of gas as well as the cost of an additional vehicle, insurance, gas and all the other maintenance needs of a second vehicle in a home.

SANDAG Involvement

SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments, serves as the forum for decision-making in the San Diego region, and is a public agency that serves a very strategic function when it comes to large scale plans such as resource allocation including public transportation, engineering and other plans important to the San Diego Area. SANDAG is made up of a grouping of council members, county supervisors, mayors and more from the region’s 19 local government areas. While individuals are encouraged to play a part in SANDAG, their involvement is generally on the informational side as individuals do not have a voting part in the Public Participation Plan. However, individuals are able to stay informed and involved through volunteering and working on specific ad hoc committees.

Ongoing Funding is Critical for Success

The ability for the San Diego area transportation groups to maintain solid public transportation options is hampered by local governmental roles, but aided by SANDAG and federal government options. Additional funding alternatives were identified by SANDAG during a 2010 Transit Impediments Study. A 2050 Regional Transportation Plan was approved in December 2010, and this specific plan included critical improvements that will sustain San Diego’s public transportation system for the next few decades–including the important and much-anticipated new District Three streetcars project.

Bus Rapid Transit Projects

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Functional transit service between neighborhoods was promised with the completion of the I-15 through Kensington/Normal Heights in 2012; in 2015 SANDAG was also conducting surveys of trolley, train and bus route riders between Feb. – Nov. in order to inform future development of that particular resource. Several different studies are under way in an effort to determine where best to spend the very limited resources and dollars that are available to the public transportation team and office.

Several transit operators’ work together to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the San Diego area, but the future of rapid transit in San Diego is far from perfect or assured. It is important that all interested parties continue to investigate potential options for funds to strengthen, not just to maintain, our public transportation system. The significant benefits of public transportation including the reduction of gas consumption and the personal savings, as well as the lessened environmental impact and smaller carbon footprint, can make long-term differences in the world around us.