Prior to the start of school for the San Diego Unified School District on Monday, district leaders and transit organizations Friday reminded families of a program making public transportation free for youth during the school year.
SDUSD, the Metropolitan Transit System and San Diego Association of Governments collaborated on the Youth Opportunity Pass, which launched a pilot program on May 1. According to data collected since that date, youth ridership has increased 34%.
“Free transit for youth already provides a great benefit for so many families, and we are excited for even more students to take advantage of this program,” said Nathan Fletcher, MTS board chair and chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Right now, MTS has more than 100,000 youth PRONTO accounts registered, and continues to receive hundreds of registration requests every day.
“The estimated number of youth using transit has more than doubled in recent months, and that is a testament to the need for the Youth Opportunity Pass, and the doors of opportunity it opens for students in our region,” he said.
Even with schools no longer in session, youth ridership spiked 60% during weekends in the recent summer months when compared to the month before the pilot launched. SANDAG and the county of San Diego secured $1.5 million in funding for a the pilot through June 30, 2023.
“The SANDAG Youth Opportunity Pass Pilot Program is changing lives throughout the San Diego region,” said Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, SANDAG second vice chair and National City Mayor. “SANDAG is proud to be partnering with MTS (North County Transit District), and the county of San Diego to expand equitable access to transit, so that all San Diegans — especially our young people — can conveniently get to where they need to go and explore places across the region like they never have before.”
The funding for the project comes from the American Rescue Plan Act and was turned over to SANDAG, which in turn oversees the program on behalf of MTS.
Since the project began, San Diego Unified has distributed thousands of PRONTO cards to youths, including 15,000 last year and more than 10,000 ready to be distributed once school starts.
“This helps level the playing field for so many young people,” said Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, SDUSD board president. “Youth Opportunity Passes provide San Diego Unified students a way to connect to school, jobs, entertainment, and so much more.”
“We also know that when we open up mass transit to our youth we are preparing them to become the next generation of mass transit riders,” she said. “This generation already cares deeply about protecting the environment — and they know the environmental benefits of keeping cars off the road.”
Along with reminding students and families of the program, MTS staff offered safety guidelines while using public transportation, including:
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Take your headphones off when walking near tracks or bus stops and always look both way before crossing train tracks or intersections
- Keep small and valuable items securely hidden when possible
- Don’t talk to strangers
- Be courteous with fellow passengers by giving up your seat if you see a senior or rider with disabilities
Youth who need to register for a Youth PRONTO account to ride free can download the PRONTO app, or get a free card through participating school campuses or the MTS Transit Store.
More information on the ridership program can be found at www.sdmts.com/fares/youth-opportunity-pass-program.
City News Service contributed to this article.