San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn. Photo by Chris Stone
San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn. Photo by Chris Stone

The Metropolitan Transit System board on Thursday elected San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn as chair to succeed Nathan Fletcher, who resigned in March amid allegations of sexual harassment involving an MTS employee.

Whitburn will serve the remainder of Fletcher’s term as well as the next term, which begins in January 2024.

 “It is a great honor to lead our region’s public transit system,” said Whitburn, who represents the district from downtown to Hillcrest on the City Council. “MTS is recovering ridership at a much faster pace than many agencies across the nation after the pandemic. We also have major service enhancements happening this year.”

The transit agency’s board is made up of 15 local elected officials — four from the city of San Diego, two from Chula Vista, and one each from the County of San Diego, and the cities of Poway, Santee, El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, Lemon Grove, Coronado and Imperial Beach. 

 Mayor Todd Gloria congratulated Whitburn, adding that “now more than ever, MTS needs stability and leadership for the agency to continue fulfilling its mission of providing dependable public transportation.”

Fletcher resigned from the MTS board on March 29 while admitting to an affair with a Metropolitan Transit System employee who is suing him for alleged sexual assault and harassment. Fletcher later resigned from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

During the board meeting at which Whitburn was elected,  directors approved a $407 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The budget will fully fund current levels of trolley service and increase levels of bus service.

While the new budget is balanced, MTS is still navigating a structural budget deficit of $51 million due to lost ridership and revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.

MTS operates more than 100 bus routes and three trolley lines carrying 220,000 passengers every weekday.

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