Guest commentary: Trolley extension already has changed UC San Diego students’ lives

A trolley on MTS' UC San Diego Blue Line extension stops at the university's central campus in La Jolla.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Now, students have an easy, fast and free ride to all that San Diego has to offer.


The Mid-Coast Extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley rolled into campus for the first time just a few weeks ago, but it’s already making a huge impact.

$2.2 billion Blue Line extension connects the trolley system to UCSD, VA hospital, Golden Triangle, Mission Bay Park, Pacific Beach and Clairemont.

For decades, UC San Diego has been a sleepy hollow for students — up on a mesa in La Jolla, isolated from the rest of San Diego. Since the founding of the campus, the way to get up to the mesa was always to meander up La Jolla hills on old roads that date back to the time of Camp Matthews and when “biotech” wasn’t in San Diego’s lexicon.

We must invest in frequent connecting buses, bus-only lanes and safe infrastructure for bicycles and micromobility.

More recently, this has meant spending hours in a car, stuck in crippling traffic congestion or crawling along on a bus subject to the same traffic.

UC San Diego and the area around it look a lot different now than they did in 1960 — the year the campus was founded, shortly after the birth of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. Since then, the student head count here has soared, with record enrollment growth leading to almost 43,000 students on campus this fall. San Diego has had many a life science boom, with another one on the horizon in UC San Diego’s front yard.

It was clear to me, and to my tens of thousands of student colleagues, that our old way of getting around wasn’t going to cut it anymore. For that, the Blue Line trolley came to save the day.

Now, students have an easy, fast and free (thanks to the all-campus U-Pass program) ride to all that San Diego has to offer. Students who previously had a hard time venturing farther than the beach or the Westfield UTC mall can now hop on a quick trolley ride to jobs, internships, restaurants and even nightlife — all across San Diego.

UC San Diego students are also in the midst of a housing crisis. Rental prices in San Diego are at an all-time high, with rents in the University City neighborhood seeing double-digit rent growth. Housing availability is also limited, with thousands more students on summer wait lists for on-campus housing than beds available. Many students are living more densely (more people per room) and for more money than they ever thought they’d have to.

Some are choosing to stick it out with parents or other family members. I’ve even spoken to students who are commuting to the La Jolla campus from as far away as Tijuana or Orange County.

The trolley opens up dozens of new neighborhoods as places to live for students. Now even San Ysidro or Santee are easy car-free rides up to the campus. Perhaps someday the trolley system could even spur development of dense, transit-oriented “student villages” of housing near major stations.

Even before the arrival of the trolley, students here have been committed leaders in shifting to alternative transportation methods. Pre-pandemic, only about a third of students reported that driving was their primary means of getting to campus, much lower than in the region overall. Despite this, existing transit options (read: buses) were not serving the need. The campus already had the Metropolitan Transit System’s SuperLoop (201/202) bus route, which serves the student-dense surrounding neighborhoods. However, this route was already the busiest and most ridden in the MTS network by far.

In the morning and afternoon peak commute times, being passed up by a bus already jam-packed with students was not an uncommon experience. Even if you managed to board, crowding in the mornings meant you could practically taste what other riders had for breakfast. This is unacceptable anytime, but especially so during a pandemic. The bus driver shortage that MTS is facing also shows how fortuitous the timing of the trolley’s arrival is for our campus.

Additionally, the $2.1 billion trolley extension represents a commitment from MTS and the San Diego Association of Governments to serve students, sixfold MTS’ meager annual operating budget.

With the opening of the new 2,000-bed North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood this fall, and with over a dozen new, dense building projects in the works, UC San Diego is becoming a shining urban village. With the arrival of the trolley, the campus now has a new “front door,” with public-facing education, art and entertainment. This is great for the broader San Diego community, and all San Diegans should come see the great things we have to offer.

Now, students are soaring over traffic and rolling into our clean transportation future. We know that transit is the future of how to move our communities. Come visit our campus and it’s clear — it is time for the rest of San Diego to experience the same.

Manu Agni is president of the Associated Students of UC San Diego. He lives in La Jolla. This commentary was originally published by The San Diego Union-Tribune.