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The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is the public transit service provider for Central, South, Northeast and Southeast San Diego Countymarker, in the United Statesmarker. MTS operating subsidiaries include the San Diego Trolley, Incorporated , and San Diego Transit Corporation . Average daily ridership among all public transit services provided is 280,100.

MTS owns the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway (SD&AE); and the San Diego Vintage Trolley, Incorporated.

MTS also licenses and regulates taxicabs, jitneys, and other private for-hire passenger transportation services provided contract for the cities of San Diegomarker, El Cajonmarker, Imperial Beachmarker, La Mesamarker, Lemon Grovemarker, Powaymarker and Santeemarker.


MTS is a joint powers authority agency, or JPA. Member cities include San Diegomarker, Chula Vistamarker, Coronadomarker, El Cajonmarker, Imperial Beachmarker, La Mesamarker, Lemon Grovemarker, National Citymarker, Powaymarker, Santeemarker, and the county of San Diego. Elected officials from each jurisdiction, including San Diego Countymarker, serve as the Board of Director’s. The city of San Diegomarker has the most representation with four members. A county resident is elected by the Board of Director’s to serve as the Chairman.

Historical Timeline



July 3 -- San Diego Street Car Company, founded by (Hamilton Story and Elisa Babcock) begins service. An open air street car, drawn by two mules or horses, makes its way up Fifth Avenue at D Street (now Broadway) with a top speed of 5 miles per hour. The San Diego Street Car Company eventually has five lines in downtown running between H Street (now Market), F Street, D Street (now Broadway), First and Fifth Streets. The "system" is composed of six cars, 20 horses and costs five cents to ride.

San Diego & Old Town Street Railway Company and Electric Rapid Transit Company plan overhead wires to power new line.

San Diego experiences terrific growth in the mid to late 1880's. In 1880 the county's population is 8,600. By 1887 it has grown to over 40,000 creating a demand for public transportation.


June 14 -- San Diego Land and Town Company begins suburban steam line, the National City and Otay Railway (NC&O) to shuttle buyers to new housing subdivisions. 550 passengers ride on the first day.National City: Building a Community and Preserving Its Transit Heritage ( 1, 2) provides a brief history of this city's public transit heritage.

November 9 -- The first electric motor makes test run on new tracks up Broadway to Kettner and on to Old Town

November 19 -- Electric street car service inaugurated in San Diego; next day San Diego Union newspaper reports:

Two days later, another news story said,

December 1 -- City told that the "Old Town Line is being dismantled and moved" but a new electric street car line will be built to serve the new University Heights neighborhood (now Normal Street) and that the lines on Fourth and Fifth Streets in downtown San Diego will be electrified.


The Electric Rapid Transit Company puts an electric street car into regular operation in San Diego


The Electric Rapid Transit Company collapses; steam and horse powered lines take over.



June -- San Diego Cable Car Company starts operation. These "Palaces on Wheels" are trimmed with rare woods and stained-glass windows. The metalwork was plated with nickel. The cars travel at eight to ten miles per hour.The population decreases to 16,000, causing some of the transportation companies to fail.


November --John D. Spreckels incorporates the San Diego Electric Railway Company.


January -- J. D. Spreckels purchases the San Diego Street Car Company for $115,000. Over the next few years, he also purchases the Park Belt Line, the San Diego Cable Company, Citizens Traction Company and the O.B. RailroadSpreckels decides to make a complete conversion to electrically powered vehicles. This involves retrackng, double-tracking, installing overhead wiring, building a power plant, purchasing new cars, and rehabilitating old cars. He is quoted as saying, "I made those larger investments to protect the investments I had already made. It was just plain business sense. The city would not grow without an adequate street car facility. If San Diego did not grow, then my big investments would not pay."The name and the system is changed to San Diego Electric Railway Company (SDER).

September -- There were 12 miles of electric railway open with two double decker and six single decker vehicles.



In the first part of the new century there is impressive growth in the streetcar system. Two new operating divisions on Imperial Avenue in Downtown (1911) and Adams Avenue in Normal Heights (1915) open to accommodate this growth.


Spreckels builds a new power generating plant to operating the expanding streetcar network.


Third Avenue Streetcar Line begins operation from Market Street up Third to Fir Street to the luxurious Hotel Florence.SDER operates 798,152 car miles in this year.


Third Avenue Streetcar Line extended to Washington Street and future Mission Hills community, and is briefly renamed Mission Hills Line. The streetcar line was the genesis of the new Mission Hills suburb.Mission Hills Route 3: Building a Community Around a Street Car Line (page 1, 2) provides a brief history of how transit contributed to one of San Diego's most vital neighborhoods.One-way fare between San Diego and National City is $0.10 on the National City and Otay Railway (NC&O) Route.


Spreckels forces a ballot initiative to amend his charter with the City of San Diego to give him more than 25 years on his leases to operate streetcar service. With this greater security he is able to acquire major loans for service expansion and infrastructure.


Spreckels builds second power generating plant at Kettner and E Street when the plant built in 1905 no longer can handle the capacity.


Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park spurs next phase of transportation growth. A new electric car service is constructed up 12th Street to the Park's entrance with 101 new cars from St. Louis Car Company.SDER operates 3,521,571 car miles in this year.San Diego's original Victorian style train depot is demolished and relpaced with a new Mission Style Santa Fe Depot building. It operates through the 20th Century into the 21st Century, serving as a station for Amtrak, Coaster and San Diego Trolley trains.


The "Great Flood" of 1916 washes out several rail lines.Despite the rapid growth of the rail system it faces many challenges. Private auto ownership starts to increase and with it, auto drivers become jitney drivers, cruising streetcar lines for passengers.WWI increases the cost of railway construction materials by 50 to 150 percent.



Spreckels announces plans to discontinue service on several rail lines to offset expenses, leading to approval of "zone fares".Nickel Zone fares introduced. There are two zones,"inner" and "outer."Spreckels purchases new streetcars that requires only one driver/conductor instead of two. Older cars were retrofitted to reduce labor costs.Spreckels sells his power generating plants to Consolidated Gas and Electric Company. From this point, power for streetcars will be purchased from the utility company.


The first motor bus goes into service operating between National City and Chula Vista. "Number One" has hard rubber tires, two-wheel mechanical brakes, a four-cylinder engine and a plywood body. There are three buses, one manufactured by Flagel and two by the Reo company.


Bus Drivers make between $0.27 AND $0.33 per hour.Spreckels begins the last major rail line expansion to Mission Beach (Belmont Park), Pacific Beach, and La Jolla. $2,500,000 is spent on rails, Spanish Mission terminals and substations, and Egyptian Revival stations. $800,000 is spent to purchase 50 new cars. Construction is completed in 1925.



Buses begin to replace street cars from Ocean Beach to La Jolla.222 new buses are added to the fleet.Bus drivers make approximately $4.83 a day.The Great Depression of the 1930's affects ridership, just as it does the economy. Ridership and revenue goes down but the SDER is able to weather the economic downturn.


California Pacific International Exposition opens in Balboa Park without the need for expanded transit service, as had been necessary with the Panama Pacific Exposition two decades earlier.



WWII turns San Diego into a "boom town" again. Defense related industries revitalize the city, as do an influx of military personnel.Ridership on public transit increases 600 percent during the war years. Any piece of equipment that rolls on rails or runs on tires is pressed into service to handle the enormous demand.Used transit vehicles are purchased from around the nation. More electrical power is needed and substations are built, one in the basement of the Spreckels Theater Building on Broadway.Some bus routes are operated haphazardly, frequently with no set schedule - just run as fast and as frequently as they can.For the first time, women are hired to drive transit vehicles. This practice is discontinued when the war ends.The 2.5 million dollar rail line built in the 1920's to the beaches is ripped out along with the elaborate stations and terminals and replaced with a bus line.


Street Car and Bus Lines carry 94 million people, ridership increases lead to more than 146 million trips in 1944.


San Diego and Electric Railway begins to phase out street car lines and replace them with bus routes.


Only three street car lines remain in operation.


Jesse L. Haugh purchases the San Diego Electric Railway Company from the Spreckels interests. San Diego Electric Railway Company's name is changed to San Diego Transit System. A new emblem and motto, "Safety, Courtesy, Service" are introduced by the San Diego Transit System.


April 23: New General Motors buses parade down Broadway to mark the retirement of street cars, making San Diego the first major California city to convert to an all bus transit system.

April 24: At 5:35 a.m. the most senior operator at San Diego Transit, N.A. Holmquist, drives car # 446 into the Adams Avenue car barn, ending rail transit in San Diego. Operator Holmquist and car 446 retire at the same time. It will be just over three decades, until July 1981, before rail transit will roll through San Diego again.



During the 1950's Jesse Haugh makes a concerted effort to update the transit system and improve service.April -- Haugh replaced 58 percent of the bus fleet with the most modern motor coaches available at the time. Accidents are reduced by 33 percent.


Haugh invests $1.5 million to improve the San Diego-Coronado Ferry and bus service.


Ridership is the same as it was in 1940's (before the boom of WWII) even though the population has doubled.Nationwide, transit has lost an average of 47 percent of its ridership.Drivers make $2.10 an hour.Haugh establishes a charter department to increase revenues and purchases over-the-road charter coaches with washrooms, tables and refreshment centers.


In a joint transit/business partnership, Haugh begins the Marston Fashion Bus. Marston's is the city's premier department store from the late 1800's through the 1960's. The Fashion Bus has dressing rooms, and its own foldout runway ramp.Haugh is named president of the American Transit Association.


San Diego Transit celebrates it's ten year anniversary under the Haugh ownership. During the past ten years it has operated 107,504,296 revenue miles, carried 155,100,249 passengers, consumed 8,271,943 gallons of diesel fuel and had won six national safety awards.



A specially formed Transit Task Force recommend that the City of San Diego acquire the transit system.

June--voters approve the City's purchase of San Diego Transit System along with a property tax assessment of $0.10 per $100 assessed evaluation to fund its future operations.


San Diego Transit becomes a non-profit corporation with the City of San Diego. Under the City it carries 18.4 million passengers on 23 routes with 150 buses. The base fare is $0.30 plus $0.10 per zone.


Ridership dips to 18.9 million from 21.5 million in 1968.



At the start of this decade new, Federal subsidies allow San Diego Transit to reduce the $0.35 base fare (plus an additional $0.10 per zone up to 8 zones) to a flat $0.25 fare.


SB 101 becomes law, MTDB Formed.


San Diego Transit carries over 30 million passengers on 44 routes with a fleet of 350 buses and a flat-rate fare of $0.35.


MTDB's Board Member Maureen O'Connor negotiates purchase of SD&AE Railway For $18.1 million.Annual ridership in this decade improves from 18 million to 35 million.



San Diego Trolley, Inc. (SDTI) formed.


July 19 -- San Diego Trolley inaugural run takes place on 15.9 "South Line" between U.S. International Border and Downtown San Diego.

July 26 -- San Diego Trolley begins revenue service; operating day begins at 5:02 a.m. and ends at 9:01 p.m.; 14 light rail vehicles (LRV's) in fleet operate twenty-minute service on a primarily single track system on a 15.9 mile "South Line" with four passing tracks and carry approximately 10,000 passengers a day.Regional Monthly Ready Pass introduced.MTDB negotiates first Sale/Leaseback transaction netting $1.7 million.


Ten light rail vehicles added to fleet.


Trolley begins 15 minute service on "South Line"; average daily ridership is over 14,000.


June 1 -- MTDB breaks ground on 4 mile Trolley extension east from 12th & Imperial station to Euclid Avenue which is to become first leg of future East Line later renamed Orange Line.

July -- San Diego Trolley begins new Distance-Based Zone Fare Structure with fares ranging from .50 to $1.00.

RailTex named operator of San Diego & Imperial Valley freight railroad service.


The City of San Diego transfers its ownership of San Diego Transit Corporation to MTDB.MTDB Board membership expands from seven to 15 members.MTDB negotiates a $1.3 million Sale/Leasbeack transaction.


Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) logo adopted.Introduction of the One, Two and Three-Day Passes.Trolley takes delivery of five new LRVs

March 23 -- San Diego Trolley begins 30 minute service on the 4.5 mile segment of the new East Line (later renamed Orange Line) to Euclid Avenue.San Diego Trolley Line begins service to new Bayfront/E Street Station in Chula Vista.

May -- The Transit Store opens at 5th & Broadway in Downtown San Diego. The new sales and customer service facility is a joint operation of San Diego Transit and the MTDB.

July -- 5,000+ San Diegans attend the "Century of Service" Pops concert in the Gaslamp Quarter celebrating San Diego Transit's 100 years of public transit service.

October -- New Bayfront/E Street Station opens on San Diego Trolley's South Line. San Diego State University (SDSU) Transit Center opens

November 17 -- MTDB holds groundbreaking for next 11.7 mile East (Orange) Line segment.


November -- San Diego Voters approve a 20 year local sales tax increase called TransNet. The bill authorized a 1/2 cent addition to the local sales tax that would be split as follows: 1/3 for highways, 1/3 for local roads, and 1/3 for public transit projects.

Construction begins on James R. Mills Building at 12th & Imperial Transit Center.


New LRVs: Trolley begins taking delivery of 20 new generation vehicles.

National City 8th Street station parking lot expanded.

Express bus service begins operating on the new Interstate High-Occupancy-Vehicle (HOV) lanes.


January --MTDB, San Diego Trolley, and several County of San Diego departments move to new 10 story office tower constructed over 12th & Imperial Transit Center

MTDB assumes Taxi regulatory responsibility for City of San Diego.

SDTC Kearny Mesa Division (KMD) bus division opens.May 12 -- Second East (Orange) Line segment to Spring Street in City of La Mesa opens.

June 23 -- Third East (Orange) Line segment opens between Spring Street and El Cajon. Average daily Trolley ridership ranges to more than 48,000.

Bus and Trolley ridership in this decade grow from 35 million in 1980 to 54 million in 1989.



San Diego Trolley begins service on new East Line (later named Orange Line) extension to Bayside Corridor serving new Convention Center and hotels.

MTDB negotiates 1.6 million offshore Sale/Leaseback transaction.

Classroom Day Tripper Program offering deep discounts for youth and school group field trips begins.

San Diego Trolley sets new, single day ridership record of 71,790.


Governor Pete Wilson inaugurates start of San Diego Trolley's 7.5-minute peak hour service on South Line.

America Plaza Transfer Station and 32 story high rise open at Broadway and Kettner.

APTA announces San Diego Trolley will receive the 1991 Public Transportation System Outstanding Achievement Award for Systems Utilizing 50 Peak Hour Vehicles of Less.

San Diego Trolley carries its "90 Millionth Rider".


Adopt-A-Bus Stop Program begins.

MTDB and NCTD jointly purchase Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway right-of-way in SD County.

South (Blue) Line extension to County Center/Little Italy Station opens.


South Bay Bus Maintenance Facility acquired.


Coast Express Rail Service (Coaster), Commuter Rail Line Operated by North San Diego Transit Development Board (NCTD) begins service between Oceanside and Santa Fe Depot.

San Diego Transit compressed natural gas (CNG) buses are placed into service.

The Transit Store relocated to 102 Broadway at First Avenue.

97 new CNG buses added to fleet.

Bus Sale/Leaseback transaction for $540,000 completed.

52 new, higher performing light rail vehicles added to San Diego Trolley's fleet.

MTDB completes LRV Sale/Leaseback transaction for $10.7 million.

August 26 -- Fourth East (Orange) Line segment opens between El Cajon Transit Center and Santee Town Center.


110th Anniversary of SDTC and 15th Anniversary of SDTI.

Trolley begins service on extension from County Center/Little Italy Station to Old Town Transit Center.

National City 24th Street Trolley station groundbreaking for Adult Education joint development project.


Full MTS Access (ADA) Service implemented.

MTDB renames South Line to Blue Line and East Line to Orange Line along with adding identification numbers for each Trolley Station.

Inland Breeze bus service funded through FasTrak begins on I-15 HOV lanes.

Blue Line extension from Old Town to Mission San Diego Station opens.


San Diego Trolley has record ridership of 219,000 to National Football League's Super Bowl XXXII and 140,000 and Major League Baseball's World Series.


Ground Breaking of Mission Valley East Light Rail Transit Project.

Congress authorizes $325 million for MVE and Mid-Coast LRT extensions.

Coronado/San Diego Bay Ferry Commuter service begins.

MTS bus and trolley annual ridership grows from 60 million in 1990 to 84 million in 1999.



70 new 40' low-floor CNG buses added to fleet.

SDTI Rail Yard Expansion Project completed.

Groundbreaking and construction begin on 5.6 mile Mission Valley East (MVE) Trolley Extension to SDSU and Grossmont.


Trolley Celebrates 20th Anniversary.

MTDB Celebrates 25th Anniversary.

San Diego Transit Celebrates 115th Anniversary.

117 new 40' low-floor CNG buses added to fleet.

Construction begins on San Ysidro Intermodal Transportation Center.


County Transit System moves to MTDB.


Super Bowl XXXVII generates more than 400,000 riders for San Diego Trolley.

MTDB opens park-and-ride lot for 120 vehicles at the Sorrento Valley Coaster Station.

Consolidation begins as MTDB and NCTD assumed by SANDAG .

October -- MTDB becomes MTS.


Expanded San Ysidro Intermodal Transportation Center construction completed and station re-opens.

Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) and Smart Card accepting fareboxes are installed on NCTD Breeze and San Diego Transit buses.


Green Line 5.6 mile extension opens closing the gap in Mission Valley and creating one line connecting Old Town Transit Center and Santee Town Center with the new showcase underground SDSU Station as well three other new stations at Grantville, Alvarado Hospital and 70th Street. This Line closes the gap between the Orange and Blue Line.


MTS Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) redesigns bus network for the first time in 23 years.

Public transportation

Main Article: List of Bus Routes in San Diego

MTS administers several public transportation services, including the San Diego Trolley and three light rail lines, 95 fixed-route bus services, and paratransit service. About half of its fixed-route bus services are contracted out to Veolia Transportation, First Transit, Inc., or Southland Transportation Services, with First Transit providing paratransit services.

MTS has begun providing their route schedules to Google and this has spawned a new generation of trip planners such as TransitTrips.

Light rail service

San Diego Trolley Model SD100s in Downtown San Diego.
March 2008.
Light rail service is operated by the San Diego Trolley, Incorporated . It is commonly referred to as The Trolley. Three lines are operated and are designated by the colors Blue, Orange and Green. Special Event service is also operated for large events occurring at Qualcomm Stadiummarker, Petco Parkmarker and the San Diego Convention Centermarker via a special event Red Line.

Light rail service provided by MTS is among the most utilized systems in terms of patronage in the United Statesmarker. Over 100,000 typically ride the Trolley each weekday.

The Blue Line was the initial line to enter into service, operating between San Ysidromarker and Downtown San Diego. The Orange Line began service in March 1986 linking eastern suburban areas also to Downtown San Diego. The Green Line began service in July 2005 and included the system's first underground station located at San Diego State Universitymarker. It operates predominantly in Mission Valley, linking Santeemarker and Old Townmarker.

Commuter and express bus service

Five commuter express fixed-route bus routes (Routes 810, 820, 850, 860, and 870) are operated Monday through Friday linking suburban areas to the north and east with downtown San Diego and Kearny Mesa. Each route runs inbound to downtown San Diego or Kearny Mesa during the morning commute period and outbound in the afternoon commute period. Over-the-road Greyhound style vehicles are used for these Commuter Express Services.

Six express fixed-route bus routes (Routes 20, 30, 50, 150, 210, and 960) are operated along major roadways and highways and link intermediate distant suburban areas to the San Diego urban area. Two of the six routes only operate during the morning and evening commute periods. Vehicles used for service are typically standard 40-foot buses or 60-foot articulated buses.

Urban and local bus service

Urban bus routes link the densely populated neighborhoods and adjacent cities together with direct and frequent bus service. These services constitute the bulk of fixed-route bus services operated in terms of vehicle requirements and patronage. Typically, headways are 12–15 minutes between scheduled bus arrival/departure times during commute periods and during midday times. Generally, no worse than 30-minute headways occur during non-commute periods and weekends.

Local routes and Shuttle services are also operated by MTS. These typically operate less frequently or have a shorter range.

Rural bus service

Rural transit services link the sparsely populated central and eastern portions of San Diego County to the San Diego urban core. Each rural service is linked to the San Diego Trolley and other fixed-route transit services at the El Cajon Transit Center. Routes 888, 891/892 and 894 constitute the rural services.

Paratransit service

Paratransit services, operated under the name "MTS Access" provide point-to-point service upon request to passengers registered with MTS as being qualified for assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service is available throughout the MTS service area, and connections to a similar NCTD service are also available.

Vehicles are 16-passenger van conversions equipped with wheelchair lifts and tiedowns. 12 of the 16 seats are collapsible, allowing space for up to 4 wheelchairs. Fares are $4.50 each way, though passengers are allowed to bring one companion (as a PCA, or Personal Care Assistant) free of charge. Additional fare-paying companions are also permitted.

Connecting transit services

Connecting public transit services include the BREEZE bus, SPRINTER light rail, and COASTER commuter rail services operated by the North County Transit District . Amtrak operates several weekday and weekend train services (Pacific Surfliner) out of the downtown San Diego Santa Fe Depotmarker. Some bus services enter the United Statesmarker from Tijuanamarker, Mexicomarker.


Effective January 1, 2008, MTS raised fares and eliminated transfer passes for some fixed-route bus services. The regular passenger fare for each boarding increased from $1.75 to $2.25 per boarding to a maximum $2.00 to $2.25 per boarding depending on the route. The Monthly Pass increased from $60 to $64.

Although the cash fare increase was modest, $0.25, the elimination of free Transfer Passes was controversial. This impacted infrequent cash fare paying riders using multiple bus routes to complete their trip the most because each boarding requires the full fare be paid. As a response, MTS encouraged riders to purchase a $5 Daily Pass for access on the whole system as it is approximately the same cost as the total would be for a round trip utilizing a single bus for each direction and paying the single ride fare each time. Or, to consider purchasing a $64 Monthly Pass.

Effective January 1, 2009, MTS set fares for the San Diego Trolley at $1.25 for up to two hours within downtown San Diego, and $2.50 for all other one-way trolley service. Seniors (ages 60 and over), people with disabilities and Medicare cardholders pay 60 cents and $1.25 respectively. Further, the Monthly Pass increased from $64 to $68, with the youth pass at $34 and seniors/disabled/Medicare pass at $17. While the adult Premium Monthly Pass (including travel on $5.00 premium express buses) remained at $90, new $45 youth and $22.50 senior/disabled/Medicare premium monthly passes were introduced.

Effective July 1, 2009, MTS eliminated the downtown zone fare category for the San Diego Trolley. As a result, the regular passenger fare for all one-way trips on the trolley became $2.50 regardless of origin or destination point; seniors, people with disabilities, and Medicare cardholders pay just $1.25 each. MTS also increased the passenger fare for shuttle bus routes to $2.25 ($1.10 senior/disabled/Medicare). All other single-ride cash fares remain unchanged. The cost of an ordinary 1-day pass also remained at $5, but the cost of a 1-day RegionPlus pass increased from $11 to $14. MTS also increased the prices of all monthly passes (e.g. from $68 to $72 for a regular 30-day adult pass) and began selling 14-day passes, which replace the half-month passes.

No passes are accepted by MTS Access paratransit buses; however, prepaid tickets are available in books of 10.

San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway

San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway is a division of MTS; however does not operate public transit service. Instead, the division manages and leases the tracks.

San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad

The San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad is a privately-owned railroad owned and operated by RailAmerica, which operates a freight service on SD&AE's lines.

External links


  1. American Public Transportation Association, APTA Fourth Quarter 2007 Agency Statistics, 2007.
  2. Metropolitan Transit System, Take One Notice, December 15, 2007 - January 15, 2008.
  3. [1]

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