SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With gas prices hovering well above $6 per gallon across San Diego, ridership numbers on public transit are also soaring.
"It seemed easier, and it was actually cheaper than paying for gas to where we're going," says Sheri Dunlap, who was taking her first ever trip on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner Tuesday. "I'm going to Orange, and I think it was going about the same for 2 people. But we wouldn't have to drive."
Erardo Diaz says he's started taking transit about three times as often as he did when gas was cheaper. He rides his bike to the station, and then takes the trolley wherever he needs to go.
"I'm just trying to mitigate the situation," he says of fuel costs. "You think about what it costs to take public transportation and fill up your gas tank. If you use it twice a week it's definitely worth it."
That's the message from SANDAG and other public transit officials. SANDAG says transit ridership is up 34% since last year.
"It's a huge savings," says Antoinette Meier, SANDAG's Senior Director of Regional Planning. "And it works really well for some people."
According to numbers given to ABC 10News, there have already been 57,646,200 trips on public transit through May of 2022. That's more that all of 2021, when ridership plummeted to 43,672,608 trips because of the Pandemic. In 2020, that number was 79,516,889 trips. Between 2017 and 2019, ridership hovered near 100 million trips per year. 2022 is on pace to top that.
"Those that ride already may take extra trips. And those that haven't ridden before discover transit and what a great option it is," says Chris Orlando with the North County Transit District. His organization, which runs the Coaster, Sprint, and Breeze, is seeing a 30% increase in ridership comparing May of 2022 to January.
Gas prices are fueling a lot of that increase. But officials also say it's spurred by the new MTS Trolley Blue Line, the Youth Opportunity Pass that lets kids ride for free, and the fact that pandemic restrictions have been mostly eliminated.
SANDAG says the number of kids riding public transit has grown by 40% in the first month of the Youth Opportunity Pass system.
"It's a really strong system, it gets you to a lot of places," Orlando says of San Diego's transit network. "It's a great option, particularly when gas prices are high."
He adds people don't have to give up their cars completely to take transit. Orlando says replaces a couple of drives each week with a transit trip can add up.
"It doesn't have to be every trip," says Orlando. "Hopping on the Breeze bus to go to the market, taking the Sprinter to the Breeze, riding the Coaster to the fair or Padres game can save money and really stretch time between those expensive fill-ups."
That's what Diaz does. He says it's saving him between $100 and $200 per month.
"It's super easy," says Diaz. "It's safe. You buy your card and tap it, get on, get off."
Ridership is also up for people who use other forms of transit. SANDAG's vanpool service added 20 vans during the spring because of increased interest and demand. They plan to add another 20 on July 1.
And SANDAG is also offering incentives for companies and consumers to switch to electric vehicles.
There are also tax incentives to using transit. SANDAG will host a Commuter Tax Benefit webinar about the issue on Thursday, June 30 at 11 am. To register, click here.