MTS Chair Nathan Fletcher introduces the report
MTS Chair Nathan Fletcher introduces the economic impact study at a press conference. Behind him is an electric bus. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System added $1 billion to the local economy in its 2018 fiscal year and operated the most efficient public transportation among the 15 largest U.S. cities.

Those were the conclusions of the first-ever economic impact study of a system that serves over 300,000 weekday passengers on 95 bus routes and three trolley lines.

“There is a very favorable and very substantial, positive impact that comes from our MTS system,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who released the report Monday in his role as chair of the transit agency’s board.

The study, by the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University, calculated the system’s overall economic impact at $1 billion and found it supports 13,000 jobs and returns $2.82 for every $1 of public spending.

MTS was found to be the most efficiently operated system among the 15 largest U.S. cities, with the lowest expense per passenger trip and the highest percentage of costs covered by fares. MTS riders pay 35% of the actual cost, compared to less than 20% in most cities.

“As chairman, I inherited an incredibly well run transit agency,” said Fletcher, calling it “world class.”

Lynn Reaser, chief economist at the Fermanian Insitute, said five of the report’s findings particularly stood out because of their associated social benefit:

  • MTS ridership reduced the region’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 97,000 metric tons
  • Residents who used public transit saved $11,200 compared to the cost of car ownership and operation
  • MTS supports the region’s tourism economy and has become indispensable during major events like Comic-Con
  • The system is a crucial link for workers living in Mexico, with 19,000 bus or trolley trips made daily from San Ysidro and Otay Mesa
  • Students used the system for 4.8 million trips, saving money for tuition and other educational expenses

“You roll it all up and the numbers are impressive,” she said, adding that MTS “delivers these benefits in a competitive, cost-effective way,”

The report noted that the service provided by MTS represents “a major source of support for the region’s lower income households” as well
students and the elderly.

Fletcher said a well-run public transit system benefits all residents, even those who don’t use it, by reducing congestion and pollution while supporting the local economy.

“Even if the majority of San Diego doesn’t use the transit system, everyone benefits,” he said.

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