MTS offering free rides with new app this month

New system will offer increased functionality and cost savings to public transportation riders, including MTS buses and trolleys

Nathan Fletcher addresses media with MTS

Jakob McWhinney

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, flanked by MTS & NCTD employees, speaks to press gathered at 12th & Imperial Transit Station for the launch of new regional public transportation fare processing system PRONTO. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

Jakob McWhinney, Multimedia Journalist

Just two blocks east of Petco Park, dozens of San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and North County Transit District employees, and a number of city and regional officials, gathered on Sept. 1  to celebrate the launch of the region’s new public transportation fare processing system, PRONTO

The MTS board voted in June to grant free rides on MTS buses and trolleys, and NTCD SPRINTER, BREEZE and Flex vehicles to individuals using the PRONTO app or PRONTO cards for all of September.

The goal is to incentivize riders to use the new system.

Encinitas Mayor and San Diego Association of Governments Chair Catherine Blakespear said she hoped guaranteeing San Diegans free rides in September would become an annual outreach program.

 “If we make it very easy for (riders) and there’s no cost for them to try transit they can see how it would work for them and then do it into the future,” Blakespear said. “When we take one car off the road it helps us in all ways.

“It helps us reduce congestion, it helps us reduce pollution, it helps us get around in the places that we need to go to live our life in a way that’s healthy and promotes the type of world that we want.” 

The former fare collection system, Compass Cloud, will no longer be valid for use on any MTS or NCTD vehicles beginning Oct. 1.

Individuals wait in line at the 12th & Imperial Station’s MTS Transit Store to receive a free PRONTO card, granting them free rides on MTS & NCTD vehicles for all of September. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

For those interested in taking advantage of the offer, officials encourage them to download the PRONTO app from the Apple App, or Google Play stores.

Cards can also be purchased for $2 at MTS & NCTD ticket machines or select retail outlets in the region, with an additional requirement to load $5 or $3 respectively, which can be used for rides in October.

The PRONTO system, described by MTS County Board Chair and Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher as “a giant leap forward in ease of use and convenience,” is the result of a 4-year-long development process that included feedback from riders, community-based organizations and other local stakeholders.

Supervisor Fletcher said that world class cities deserve world class public transportation, and the creation of PRONTO, and projects like the Mid Coast Trolley Corridor, whose construction begins in the coming months, aid the effort to improve the region’s public transportation infrastructure.

 Of the new features built in to the PRONTO system is a “pay-as-you-go,” or “best fare function that will ensure riders never pay more than the price of a day pass in a day, or a month pass in a calendar month. 

Fares are capped at $6 a day, and $72 a month ($3 a day and $23 a month for seniors, riders with disabilities and those between the age of 6-18), meaning if riders hit those spending thresholds in the given time frame, the system will automatically grant riders a day, or month pass respectively.

Display screen at the City College 215 bus stop featuring a Spanish language PRONTO advertisement. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

Officials believe this best fare function will lead to savings for riders who previously spent more on one way or day passes than a day or monthly pass would amount to.

Other changes brought by PRONTO are the ability to load dollar amounts directly on to the app, and unlimited transfers within a two hour period on a one-way pass, which officials said had been requested by MTS and NCTD ridership.

The PRONTO system is part of a larger effort by MTS and NCTW –  who operate a combined 125 bus routes, three trolley lines, a hybrid rail system and a heavy rail system across 10 cities, unincorporated areas of San Diego County, and 1,020 miles of San Diego’s North County – to boost ridership numbers hurt by the COVID pandemic.

 “At MTS we were seeing month over month ridership gains, one of the few transit agencies in America that was moving more people, then COVID hit and that had a significant impact on so many aspects,” Fletcher said. “Now with our economy up, with our kids back in school, with us moving forward we’re going to take actions to make sure we can safely rebuild our ridership.”

Despite the recent hit to ridership, and the years-long efforts that went into crafting PRONTO, Fletcher pledged that there would be no fare increase for riders.

“There is no increase in the cost of transit to fund this system,” Fletcher said. “MTS made a commitment, and working with our partners at NCTD (were able) to bring this system online without a fare increase and without any additional cost to our riders.”