MTS tests Blue Line trolley extension ahead of Nov. 21 opening

A trolley rolls by UC San Diego on the Blue Line extension during a test run Aug. 17.
A trolley rolls by UC San Diego on the Blue Line extension during a test run Aug. 17.
(Courtesy of UCSD Office of Research Affairs)

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System has been running tests recently on its new 11-mile Mid-Coast extension of the trolley Blue Line, including in the UC San Diego area, ahead of the extension’s Nov. 21 opening.

The UCSD Office of Research Affairs posted a photo on its Twitter account Aug. 17 with the caption “It’s happening! Testing the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley [as] we speak.”

Though the Tecolote Road, Clairemont Drive and Balboa Avenue stations are the only ones completed so far (six other stations in the UCSD and University City areas are expected to be complete next month), the entire line is being tested for train operations, including vehicle and system interface, traction power, braking, speed and travel time verification.

The line will expand the current trolley network to provide a one-seat ride from the U.S.-Mexico Border all the way north to the UCSD community, according to MTS. “The extension will connect the two largest employment centers in San Diego — the university area and downtown San Diego.”

MTS spokesman Rob Schupp added that “the trolley is projected to be highly popular,” with ridership of public transit “steadily climbing.”

He said MTS ridership is at 60 percent of its pre-pandemic levels and that ridership and fare revenue are coming back “a little faster than we thought.” But he acknowledged that reaching pre-pandemic levels is not expected until 2023.

“San Diego was built for the automobile. Freeways crisscross our region. There was never a big emphasis on transit,” Schupp said. “But all that is changing. The region recognizes that freeways can’t get any wider. And the region is faced with getting people out of cars to achieve climate action goals. The trolley can do a lot to alleviate traffic on I-5, which before the pandemic was backed up going north in the morning and south in the evening. We also have a severe housing shortage, so the region is emphasizing the construction of affordable housing along transit corridors. Our three stations along Morena [Boulevard] give the area tremendous potential to grow without necessarily adding a ton of extra vehicle trips.”

Major construction began in 2016, and since then, La Jollans have been wondering how the trolley line will connect users from Blue Line stops to The Village. As of now, the only planned service from a trolley stop to downtown La Jolla is the new No. 140 bus route from the Balboa Avenue station.

The new MTS bus route 140 is planned to offer service between La Jolla's Village and the Balboa Avenue trolley station.
The new MTS bus route 140 is planned to begin service between La Jolla’s Village and the Balboa Avenue station when the Blue Line Mid-Coast trolley extension opens in November.

Earlier this year, MTS Director of Planning Denis Desmond said Route 140 would travel north on Interstate 5, exit at La Jolla Parkway and end at the Silverado Street and Herschel Avenue bus stop for Route 30. Route 30 has run between Pacific Beach and UC San Diego through La Jolla for eight years.

MTS brought Route 140 to the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board in January, which approved it.

The new trolley line also could open up options for travel within La Jolla.

At the Aug. 11 La Jolla Village Merchants Association meeting, the board was presented with the findings of a recent update to a survey of visitors and residents about what they would like to see in the community.

The survey, originally commissioned in 2019, was created by students from the San Diego State University School of Business and was recently revisited to reflect changes in behaviors during the pandemic.

Japhet Matias Perez Estrada, a Columbia University graduate and La Jolla resident, said the “biggest concern” cited in the survey was a perceived lack of parking. “It didn’t matter the age group, gender, ZIP code, everyone’s top recommendation to improve La Jolla was building more parking lots or reducing traffic,” he said. “For non-locals who frequent or would like to frequent The Village more often, this new option of public transportation will reduce the hassle of driving and finding parking during peak hours.”

To address how to get riders from the trolley to town, Perez Estrada said he had been in touch with the operators of small shuttle vehicles that currently circulate in downtown San Diego. “Some are actively trying to break into the La Jolla market,” he said, with their main concern being La Jolla’s hilly terrain.

Any updates on that prospect may be presented at future LJVMA meetings.

The La Jolla Coastal Access and Parking Board discussed whether to fund a shuttle to connect the trolley line to The Village but has since diverted its attention to funding directional signs. ◆