San Diego trolley.
A Metropolitan Transit System trolley. Photo courtesy MTS

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System reported Thursday that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a postponement of plans for a November ballot measure to fund an expansion of city transit projects.

The announcement came a few days after the MTS initiated a reduced bus and trolley service schedule that pared down overall service by 25%, amid recent declining ridership.

At Thursday’s MTS Board of Directors meeting, staff reported an anticipated $33.5 million loss this fiscal year due to COVID-19 and up to a $100 million projected loss in the next fiscal year.

Plans for placing a half-cent sales tax on the November 2020 ballot to fund expanded transit service and a wide range of other projects have been shelved.

“The day will come when we can ask voters for additional revenue for the expanded transit system San Diego deserves. That day is not going to come in 2020,” said MTS board Chair Nathan Fletcher. “Right now, MTS needs to be focused on providing the essential service of transit. Then we will focus on the rebuilding effort, and getting residents back to work and school.”

The MTS board did approve a $100 million capital improvement project budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which would fund a fleet of compressed natural gas buses, electric bus chargers, 47 new low-floor trolleys, and a new electric bus service between the Otay Mesa and Iris Avenue transit centers.

“The MTS CIP is an important road map for planning and funding assets for San Diego’s transit system. And having more than $100 million to allocate in CIP funds is very healthy for an agency our size. This includes new trolleys and buses, new transit facilities and improvements to existing ones, technology improvements and more,” said MTS CEO Paul Jablonski.

MTS is also anticipating receiving $220 million in CARES Act stimulus funding to offset the financial effects of COVID-19.

MTS reported last week that five of its drivers tested positive for COVID-19. Four of the drivers worked routes 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 25, 215, and 944, while the remaining driver had not been working for two weeks prior to showing symptoms.

Measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include drivers no longer accepting cash payments and a mandate that all riders board MTS buses from the rear doors only, with the exception of senior citizens and riders with physical disabilities.

— City News Service