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Transit agencies propose new fare hikes for train, bus

A man gets on a Breeze bus at the Oceanside Transit Center.
A man gets on a Breeze bus at the Oceanside Transit Center.
(Union-Tribune)

New rates could take effect in May if approved

Bus, train and trolley riders across San Diego County could face the second fare adjustment in two years under a proposal to be outlined at three online meetings beginning Saturday, Jan. 9.

The changes include a 25-cent hike in the cost of one-way bus, trolley and Sprinter tickets, now at $2.50 each, and a 50 percent reduction in the youth fare for ages 6 through 18 to make them equal to the $1.25 charged to seniors, the disabled and Medicare riders.

No changes are proposed in fares for the Coaster commuter service between Oceanside and San Diego.

Fare adjustments are needed to help cover the costs of switching to a new card system used by riders who don’t pay in cash. The proposed new Pronto card will replace the Compass card used by both North County Transit District and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

“The Compass card has been in service since 2009,” said MTS spokesman Rob Schupp. “The hardware is at the end of its useful life.”

Also, the Pronto card is more technologically advanced. It stores more of its information in the cloud, instead of on the card itself, which allows instant updates and lets users make payments to their account at a kiosk, a retail outlet or by using a mobile app.

Instead of buying a monthly pass in advance, the new card allows riders to charge the cost of each one-way ride to their account until they reach the cost of a day pass and then a monthly pass. At that point, additional rides for a day or the month of the pass are at no cost.

Riders will still have the option to purchase a monthly pass in advance.

The change means that no one who doesn’t need to pay for a monthly pass will buy one and not use it. The 25-cent one-way rate increase is designed to help cover that, Schupp said.

“It’s far better than what we’ve got now with the Compass card,” Schupp said. “I think the social equity groups are really going to like it.”

Colin Parent, executive director and general council at Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit that works for better mobility choices, said Thursday “it is good to see progressive fare-capping,” but that the transit agencies also should provide free or reduced-price transfers, which unfairly affect low-income riders.

Any fare increases “harm the poorest among us” because they don’t have vehicles and “public transit is critical in their ability to make a living,” said Greg Anglea, chief executive officer of Interfaith Community services.

“The proposed rate changes will be extremely harmful to hardworking families already burdened by the high cost of living and low wages,” Anglea said. “There must be better ways to fund these services than rate increases.”

The first comprehensive rate adjustment in more than 10 years for the two agencies took effect Sept. 1, 2019. Designed with oversight by the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, the adjustment increased the cost of a one-way NCTD bus ride from $1.75 to its present $2.50 and changed dozens of fares throughout the NCTD and MTS systems to make them more compatible and less confusing to riders.

Details of the proposed changes will be explained in online meetings hosted jointly by NCTD, MTS and SANDAG at 10 a.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. Participants will be able to ask questions, speak with staff members and submit comments. To register and learn more, visit sdmts.com/farechange or gonctd.com/fare-changes/.

If approved by the boards of NCTD, MTS and SANDAG, the new rates could take effect after May 1, probably sometime over the summer.

—Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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