Teenagers on trolley
Teenagers on an MTS trolley. Courtesy SANDAG

A 14-month test of free public transit for youth under the age of 18 began this week throughout San Diego County.

Sponsored by SANDAG, the regional planning agency, the test encompasses travel on buses, trolleys and trains operated by the Metropolitan Transit System and North County Transit District.

The program began Sunday and runs through June 30 next year.

“SANDAG’s Youth Opportunity Pass pilot program will break down barriers giving the next generation a chance to experience new possibilities, and become lifelong transit riders,” said SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear.

She predicted the “historic program” will “will usher in a new era of equity in transportation in the San Diego region by making it easier for youth to get to school, after-school activities, work, and all the places they need to go.”

Eligible riders will need a Youth PRONTO app account or card to ride MTS and NCTD services for free, and those with existing Youth PRONTO accounts will automatically receive free rides.

The program is part of SANDAG’s Social Equity Early Action Transit Pilot, which will help achieve a key goal of the 2021 Regional Plan to advance equity by creating more transportation options that are safe, reliable, and convenient. 

In addition to free transit for youth, the SANDAG pilot program includes increased transit service on weeknight and weekend routes in traditionally underserved areas and outreach and education about transit services.

“This investment in the next generation of riders will move San Diego forward toward a more equitable and sustainable future,” said MTS Board Member and San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. “I look forward to seeing the opportunities that better transit access provides for our youth to succeed, and to welcome more young riders on board the MTS system.”

The program is funded by $6.13 million from SANDAG and $1.5 million from the County of San Diego.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.