Sycuan Green Line trolley
A trolley at Sycuan Green Line’s Gaslamp Quarter Station. Photo courtesy MTS

San Diego is not a place many people associate with a large public transit system—but that’s changing. A new study released this month shows how the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System generated a massive $1 billion in positive economic impact for our region in 2018.

While most arguments in support of public transit focus on relieving traffic congestion, connecting communities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the new report, conducted by the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University, proves that our transit system also contributes significantly to our region’s thriving economy.

An Economic Force for San Diego

The study illustrates the myriad ways MTS provides financial value to the community including:

  • Creating nearly 13,000 jobs and generating $625 million in annual income and earnings
  • Investing more than $27 million purchasing local goods and services
  • Connecting local employers with workers, and providing student access to job training programs that improve earning potential with 200,000 trips per day taken to work or school
  • Reducing commuting costs $11,200 per year for each passenger, adding up to a combined $861 million off the cost of gas, vehicle financing and maintenance
  • Increasing worker productivity by getting employees to the office on time and with less commute-related stress
  • Linking the U.S. and Mexico economies, providing lower transportation costs and increased access to a necessary worker pool leading to $53 million in positive financial impact

Doing More with Less

MTS is a financial leader among its peers, ensuring that our public transit system remains accessible while returning more than $2.80 in positive economic impact for every taxpayer dollar invested.

In 2018, MTS fares accounted for 34 percent of its operating budget—a significant portion compared to industry averages—while operating costs remained well below the average for large American metropolitan areas.

MTS continues to financially outperform all other similar-sized transit systems and has received perfect reports for the last 12 years from the Federal Transportation Administration.

Vital Access for Seniors, Youth and Working Families

Affordable access to transportation options drives a healthy economy. MTS averages 85 million passenger trips per year, including 22 million discounted trips for senior citizens, youth, disabled persons and people on Medicare. Transit services are also a lifeline for working individuals and families, with 60 percent of passengers coming from low or middle-income households.

As our region continues to grapple with providing enough affordable housing, we expect to see an increase in high-density development. If development can be planned along transit corridors, MTS can continue to provide the mobility required to support the growth of our dynamic economy.

Today MTS is leading the conversation and engaging the entire region to determine what future investments we value most and how it can best meet community needs through the public Elevate SD 2020 process. Now that we have the most comprehensive report to date on transit’s economic impact, MTS can build on its successes and find ways to improve rider experience, maintain or reduce fares, increase ridership and access to critical locations such as job centers, and shorten commuting times for our region’s working individuals and families.

Paloma Aguirre is a city councilmember in Imperial Beach and a member of the MTS board of directors. Jaymie Bradford is executive Vice president & chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.