Education and Transportation Leaders Kick-off School Year Highlighting Free Transit for Youth
A new school year is about to begin for tens of thousands of students in San Diego, and getting to class is easier than ever before thanks to a recent program that makes transit free for all people 18 and under. Today, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) joined the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to share important transit information and safety tips when riding transit for parents and students.
The Youth Opportunity Pass (YOP) pilot program will provide a large benefit to working families by making transit free for youth throughout the entire 2022-2023 school year. Since the pilot launched on May 1, Youth ridership has increased significantly.
“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, 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.”
To make YOP possible, SANDAG, along with the County of San Diego, secured funding for a short-term pilot through June 2023. The first month it went into effect, Youth ridership increased by 34% when compared to the previous month. Even with schools no longer in session, Youth ridership spiked 60% during weekends in the recent summer months, when compared to April 2022 (the month prior to YOP launch).
“The SANDAG Youth Opportunity Pass Pilot Program is changing lives throughout the San Diego region,” said SANDAG Second Vice Chair and National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. “SANDAG is proud to be partnering with MTS, NCTD, 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.”
Since the launch of YOP, San Diego Unified has been an active partner in distributing cards to schools and getting them in the hands of students. Last fall, SDUSD helped provide 15,000 free PRONTO cards to youth, and this fall, more than 10,000 additional PRONTO cards have been distributed to SDUSD campuses.
“This helps level the playing field for so many young people. Youth Opportunity Passes provide San Diego Unified students a way to connect to school, jobs, entertainment, and so much more,” said San Diego Unified Board of Education President Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne. “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. This generation already cares deeply about protecting the environment - and they know the environmental benefits of keeping cars off the road.”
MTS also highlighted safety guidelines for parents and students while riding transit. Some tips include:
Always 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.
MTS has cameras installed on all vehicles, transit centers, and Trolley stations. Additionally, security dispatch is available 24/7 by calling 619-595-4960 or texting 619-318-1338. Young riders and their parents are encouraged to approach officers on duty if they would like to report an incident, need assistance, or have any questions.
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. For more information on the Youth Opportunity Pass pilot program, visit the MTS Website.