By Sandra G. Leon
Starting on May 1, young adults and minors will be able to ride all of San Diego’s buses, trolleys, and Coaster trains for free under a new program aimed at encouraging the use of public transit in the county.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which manages transit projects throughout the county, is launching the new Youth Opportunity Pass program which will cover all transit systems run by the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and the North County Transit District (NCTD). SANDAG is providing a $1.3 million grant to pay for the program, which will run through June 30, 2023.
Riders aged 18 and under must sign up for a Youth PRONTO account through a new phone app or receive a physical Youth PRONTO card, both part of the new transit payment system launched earlier this year.
SANDAG’s Board is made up of representatives from the County and all 19 local cities, and manages nearly $1 billion per year in local, state, and federal funds used for transportation projects in San Diego County, including revenues from the TransNET half-cent sales tax first approved by voters in 1988 and extended for 40 years in 2004.
Last year, SANDAG passed its 30-year regional transportation plan which assumed voter would pass three new sales tax increases in 2022, 2023, and 2024. Without those new revenues, SANDAG would have to scale back its long-term plan.
There is currently an independent drive led by local labor unions to qualify a citizens’ initiative for the November ballot which would raise our sales tax to help fund transportation projects. Under state law, citizens’ initiatives on need to garner 50% plus one votes to pass, compared to ballot initiatives put on by government agencies, which require a two-thirds vote to pass.