Nov 27, 2023 - Transit

San Diego leads U.S. in light rail ridership

San Diego Trolley leaving the America Plaza stop

San Diego's Trolley departs the America Plaza stop in San Diego Downtown. Photo: Dünzl\ullstein bild via Getty Images

Quietly, San Diego's Trolley has become the highest-ridership light-rail line in the country in the years since the pandemic.

Driving the news: Transit users took just over 34 million trips on the Trolley in 2022, more than any of the other 31 light rail systems tracked by the American Public Transportation Association.

  • Los Angeles' light rail system had the second most unlinked trips — counting each transfer as an additional ride: 31.5 million — and Boston's came in third at 30.7 million.

Yes, but: San Diego's ridership is less than where it was before the pandemic — it rose in the rankings simply because ridership fell on other systems much faster.

  • In 2019, riders took 38 million Trolley trips, fifth most among U.S. light rail systems.
  • That trailed L.A. (51.3 million), San Francisco (49.5 million), Boston (47.1 million), and Portland (38.3 million).

Zoom in: The Mid-Coast Trolley extension, 11 new miles on the Blue Line from Old Town to UTC, opened in November 2021, after five years of construction and a $2.1 billion investment.

What they're saying: MTS spokesperson Mark Olson added trips from border crossers at San Ysidro reinforces ridership, and the agency cut service less than their contemporaries.

  • "So we didn't experience the same ridership losses as other agencies, which is hard to gain back," he said.

What we're watching: Whether the Trolley continues to rank among the top light rail lines in the country in 2023, as transit ridership picks up in cities across the country.

  • In the first six months of 2023, the latest data available from APTA, San Diego again had the highest light rail ridership, and was up 12.5% from the first half of 2022.
  • Other cities were recovering faster, though, like San Francisco's Muni, where ridership increased 48% in the first half of the year from the same period a year earlier.
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