October 12, 2010 by Rob Hurlbut
When I look at the plans for San Diego’s $620 million Trolley Renewal Project, I like what I see. When the project is completed in 2013, the green line will run from Santee, through Old Town, absorb the northern half of the blue line’s route and take over the western part of the orange line’s route, passing through Santa Fe Depot, Seaport Village, Gaslamp District, The Convention Center and terminating at 12th & Imperial. That is awesome! The blue line will still run from the Mexican border through downtown, but will terminate at Santa Fe Depot. The orange line looses one stop at its northern end and a few stations at the southern end so it will run from Arnele Ave. in El Cajon and will terminate at Santa Fe Depot. The map below shows the what the trolley routes will look when the project is completed and lists all the improvements scheduled to be made.
Future San Diego Trolley Map
This is all great news because we’ll be able to get on any trolley in San Diego and be able to get to downtown, 12th & Imperial Transit Center and PETCO Park as well as Santa Fe Depot, which is the station that hosts Amtrak, Coaster and the number 992 airport shuttle bus. That will make the area an even bigger hub of traveler and tourist activity, and probably a desirable place to live if you are strictly a public commuter. I think SDMTS has done a great job thinking this out, and knowing that in 2½ short years downtown San Diego will have TWO stations that connect to ALL THREE San Diego trolley lines has me feeling good about the future of public transportation here.
As if the new, smarter routes for the trolley were not enough, the trolleys themselves will be brand new, ultra modern, low floor Siemens S70 light rail vehicles (LRVs). They’ll look like the green line trolleys we have now except they will be 11 feet shorter, which will allow them to maneuver through the confines of downtown. Low floor trolleys enable everyone, including people with bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs to board faster and easier. The low floor requires stations with raised platforms, so all the blue and orange line stations will be getting renovated to accommodate the new trolleys and improve the amenities. Other things being replaced that are less visible to the commuters are the rails, ties, overhead wires and flashing lights replaced with LEDs on crossing mechanisms. I think San Diego’s trolley system will be looking pretty slick by the middle of summer in 2013.
San Diego Trolley Renewal Project Schedule
In the spirit of making San Diego’s trolley and public transportation better, I have compiled a wish list that I am presenting to the world in the hopes that SDMTS will see it and agree with me on some or all of the ideas and concepts and eventually incorporate them into the system. Even though this is a TROLLEY renewal program, I’ve included a few things I think would improve the bus, since the bus and the trolley are intimately connected and should ultimately work seamlessly together. I took the liberty of numbering them, which makes each one seem like more of a goal to strive for rather than a grocery list of wants.
1. A recurring theme for getting information out to riders about closures, delays and everything else before, during and especially after the Trolley Renewal Project should be that information should be instant and available through multiple channels. A phone number to call a real person, a CONSTANTLY updated webpage, tweets from SDMTS, loudspeaker announcements at the stations, and LED signs that display current UP TO THE MINUTE INFORMATION would be immensely helpful. Also, hardcore access to current conditions in San Diego’s public transportation world should continue after the renewal project is over. It should become the norm and an example for other cities model.
2. We should be able to know what is going on AT every trolley station FROM every trolley station in a bright, visual way with options of audio for the visually impaired. All the world’s airports have boards that show what’s going on at every gate in every terminal, so the trolley should do the same. I might be at a blue Line trolley station in South Bay now but if I’m meeting friends or going to work in Mission Valley, I need to know about delays in downtown or Old Town that might cause me to miss my green line transfer.
3. We should have a single phone number to call that will handle the questions or concerns that 99% of the people have 99% of the time. Things like, schedule info, delays, closures, broken TVM’s (ticket vending machines) or other damaged property, broken compass card readers and security concerns. Being able to talk to a real person 7 days a week is important, even if it’s not 24 hours a day, it should at least be until the final trolley of the night. I would think that SDMTS customer service reps would have some valuable input for this.
4. Being able to receive up to $15 change when paying my fare with cash on the bus or at a TVM would enable us to purchase a single $5 day pass with a $20 bill or purchase a monthly $72 Compass Card with four $20 bills. That would be the single best thing SDMTS could do for commuters and tourists. The twenty dollar bill is the currency of choice for every ATM in the country, so every bus and TVM should be able to make change for it. Our public transportation would be so much more convenient and infinitely less frustrating if it could break a twenty for us. The current $5 TVM change limit and $0 bus change limit really is unacceptable and causes a lot of missed buses and trolleys.
5. I would like to be able to pay my fare with a credit card when boarding the bus.
6. Buses should never pull away from a station if a trolley is pulling in. There is nothing worse than being on a trolley that pulls into a station, close enough to your connecting bus that you are able to make eye contact with the driver, and then watch the bus pull away. That frustrates commuters and ruins their day while at the same time it keeps tourists waiting at transfer stations instead of spending money around town.
7. Just like on the trolley, able bodied and special needs passengers should be able to board and exit the bus at the same time.
8. Compass Cards are fairly transparent to use on the bus, but INCONVENIENT to use when taking a trip by trolley. I have a very simple and elegant solution: We only tap Compass Cards when boarding a bus or when asked to tap a security guard’s hand-held scanner and THAT’S IT. Other than the trip-tracking data collected, there is no reason to tap our Compass Cards before boarding a trolley or transferring between trolleys. Tapping for the bus and tapping for the security guards would be simple, easy and smart.