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MTS bus, trolley ridership trending upward as Omicron surge wanes



Sharp declines in transit use triggered by COVID-19 appear to be reversing course as the Omicron variant wanes and San Diegans slowly return to offices, schools and other in-person settings.

Transit ridership could start closing in on pre-pandemic levels by late summer, said San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Chief Executive Officer Sharon Cooney. However, she cautioned: “It’s certainly anyone’s guess if we get another variant.”

Systemwide trolley ridership was just 19 percent below pre-pandemic levels at the start of February. Officials hope that number will improve even further as UCSD and other schools continue a return to in-person classes. The La Jolla campus has yet to start really bustling, with roughly 30 percent of classes still only being offered online.

However, that funding is drying up fast. The 40-year tax measure is now projected to bring in just half of an initially estimated $39 billion through midcentury, according to an independent review from 2018. That’s because earlier forecasts significantly overestimated population and income growth, as well as spending on taxable items, which has shifted online in recent years.

SANDAG now says that funding, which amounts to about $30 million a year, will only be available through the end of 2030, rather than 2048 as originally envisioned.

That’s frustrated some MTS board members, especially since SANDAG has proposed an ambitious $160 billion blueprint for modernizing the region’s transit system. The plan is largely contingent on voters approving several sales-tax increases, the first of which could be in front of voters this November.

“I support all the big ideas and visions, but it can’t come at the expense of that single mom who depends on the trolley or a bus to get to work,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who chairs the MTS board. “We have to make sure we’re taking care of the folks who depend on it now, while we dream about what it can be in the future.”

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