Metropolitan Transit System Chairman Nathan Fletcher cheered the agency’s 2021 plans to open the UC San Diego Blue Line extension, lessen the environmental footprint of its fleet, continue to reform its security operation and more in the agency’s first-ever State of MTS speech Thursday night.
Transit agencies across the nation have been hit hard during a pandemic that has ravaged their ridership and budgets. MTS officials, including Fletcher, have said federal CARES Act dollars and years of careful fiscal management have helped the agency avoid laying off or furloughing any employees and allowed the agency to mostly restore service it initially cut last spring. The Union-Tribune noted that other transit agencies have also benefited significantly from federal aid and that MTS ridership is still down about 60 percent amid coronavirus restrictions.
In 2021, Fletcher said, MTS expects to maintain that service and take steps to better serve its riders, including with a continued ramped up cleaning regimen for its trolleys and buses and a new fare collection system that Fletcher said MTS will roll out later this year that ensures “riders will never pay for more than a day pass in one day or a monthly pass in a month.” (The new system is also expected to lead to a fare increase.)
Fletcher, also chair of the county Board of Supervisors, said MTS is set to add 11 new miles of trolley tracks and nine new stations this fall when it opens the $2 billion Blue Line extension expanding service to UTC. The agency is also set to continue its climate change efforts by retiring the last of its diesel buses this year and continuing to work toward its goal to have an all-electric bus fleet by 2040 by bringing on two new electric busses and 12 all-electric Rapid buses.
Fletcher said MTS also plans to continue to overhaul its security operation in the New Year, noting that the agency last week hired a new director of transit security and passenger safety who will lead efforts to implement 65 recommendations laid out in an MTS-commissioned review by the American Public Transportation Association. Fletcher said the recommendations include tweaks to fare inspections practices, officer training and body camera video retention.
“MTS staff will take a deep dive over the next six weeks to develop an action plan moving forward with these recommendations in-hand,” Fletcher said.
The report has yet to be publicly released but MTS spokesman Rob Schupp told VOSD the report will be finalized and released publicly within the next month.
Fletcher acknowledged the agency last year decided against proceeding with a planned November sales tax measure that supporters had hoped could help bolster the transit agency. Instead, Fletcher said, the agency will be rallying behind SANDAG’s 5 Big Moves plan to overhaul the region’s transportation system.
“Elevate SD is continuing our conversations about the future of transit in San Diego, and MTS will provide its full support for what is being done at SANDAG,” Fletcher said, referencing the canceled tax initiative.
Schupp said MTS is in talks with the regional planning agency about the possibility of including some of the short-range improvements discussed during ballot measure talks in the SANDAG initiative.