A trolley rider inspects one of the MTS 5000-series trolley cars that began service this month. Photo by Chris Jennewein

After spending decades and billions of dollars adding concrete to our freeways to relieve traffic congestion in the region, it’s become abundantly clear that we can’t out-build the demand for space on the road for single-passenger vehicles.

As study after study has shown, the short-term reduction in traffic from adding road capacity simply makes driving more appealing, inducing demand that quickly puts you right back where you started. This phenomenon is why Interstate 15 and Interstate 5, both widened by several lanes just a few years ago, still slow to a frustrating, time-wasting crawl during rush hour.

Besides being ineffective, the “make more room for cars” approach would also have cities in the region running afoul of state law mandating cities reduce their carbon footprint substantially within 10 years to address the existential threat to human existence posed by climate change. Thankfully, we have a solution.

We need to expand our transit system to attract more San Diegans to transit, and we need to start today.

This means we must enhance transit locally, addressing decades of under-investment and transforming our transit system to a high-service mass transit system that competes with cars in terms of both travel times and personal cost.

It’s an endeavor so daunting that it’s never truly been attempted in our region. It will take tremendous vision, investment and political will by our region’s leaders. But to really get it right, we need an unprecedented level of participation and input from the public.

That’s where you come in. This summer and fall, the Metropolitan Transit System and its partners will fan out across the service territory to learn from you how we can elevate San Diego’s transit service.

If you’re a transit rider, how could your experience be better and easier? If you’re not, what would it take to get you to commute some days, or to try public transit for special events like Padres games, December Nights, the Pride Festival or other events that are legendary traffic and parking nightmares?

Through this effort, which we’re calling Elevate San Diego, there will be dozens of ways you can have your say on what our mass transit system will look like in the coming years. On Tuesday, we’re launching our Community Advisory Committee, with representatives from all over our community — from college students to community planners to advocates for seniors and the disabled.

Over the next several months, you’ll have a chance to engage with representatives of MTS at public workshops, telephone town halls, pop-up events at transit stations and other public venues, and online surveys and forums. Simultaneously we’ll also have numerous working groups representing diverse regional stakeholders.

Everywhere you turn, there will be an opportunity to participate, learn more about the possibilities for our transit future and share your ideas for what could improve efficiency and riders’ experience both in the immediate and longer term.

Even if you’re not a transit rider today and doubt you can be convinced to use transit, your input is still incredibly valuable. We want to know what it would take to look at transit in a different way — or what might make others in your life, such as elderly parents or teenage kids, more inclined to use transit. (Remember, every rider on transit is one less person on the road.)

All the information about Elevate San Diego events, meetings and other public input opportunities will be shared at www.ElevateSD2020.com. This is also where we’ll share with the public what we’ve learned, as well as ideas for how to fund improvements.

It’s time for all of us to come together and participate in making our regional transportation more functional and a better experience for all commuters. The old way of doing things has landed us with 16 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, increased our vehicle miles traveled to record levels, compromised our air quality, our planet, and our personal health and happiness.

This is your opportunity to help design the fix and transform the San Diego region into an era of truly having transportation options. For yourself, your parents, your children and grandchildren, please take a little time to help us get it right, starting Tuesday.

Georgette Gómez is council president of the City of San Diego and chair of the Metropolitan Transit System. Nathan Fletcher is the supervisor for San Diego County’s 4th District, a board member of the Metropolitan Transit System, and an appointee to the California Air Resources Board.

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