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San Diego's MTS has the worst rail transit stations statewide study reports

If you are a San Diego public transportation rider, you may already know that some Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) rail stations are better than others, and some need major work altogether.

One of the most important things for transit riders and potential new ones is the overall experience when it comes to using the network to do things such as get to your job, shop or get home.

The nonprofit nonpartisan group "Next 10" released its study titled Grading California’s Rail Transit Station Areas, and took a look at six of California’s light rail systems, including San Diego's MTS.

(graphic to the left shows scorecard for The 12th & Imperial Transit Center (top) and The Gillespie Field Station (bottom).

Unfortunately their findings for America’s Finest City were not on track with other systems in California.

Nothing good could be said about the 57 MTS stations studied, save one: The 12th & Imperial Transit Center which scored a B.

The Gillespie Field Station scored the worst of all California stations studied. This is an often ignored stop on the Green Line just before it terminates at Santee Town Center. It is also situated in a highly auto dependent area; only 5.94% of residents do not own cars.

Further San Diego tied with Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for the worst hubs in the state as far as location and rider convenience.

“Top-performing transit stations tend to be located in the center of downtown-like environments and thriving, rail-oriented neighborhoods. These stations provide access to housing, shopping, places of work and other amenities,” said Next 10 founder F. Noel Perry. “Most low-performing stations are on the outer edges of rail systems, often situated in low-density, industrial or auto-oriented neighborhoods.”

Here are the highlights from the Next 10 study on San Diego’s transit stations:

• No station in the MTS aced the graded criteria.

• The 12th & Imperial Transit Center performed best overall within the San Diego region. However, its overall B grade is much lower than the best-performing stations in the five other transit systems graded.

• The station benefitted from its location in a downtown, walkable environment with access to significant destinations and job centers, but scored lower on ridership, safety and the level of auto dependency in the neighborhood.

• The Gillespie Field Station was not only at the bottom in the MTS but graded the lowest overall in the state. The area draws almost no transit use among residents and workers and is situated in a heavily ‘car dependent’ area not conducive to transit-oriented development.

• Eight MTS stations were assessed failing grades, primarily for low ridership and lack of access to attractive amenities.

Ethan Elkind associate director of the Climate Change and Business Program at the Center for Law Energy and Environment (CLEE) said that stations located next to shopping areas, walkable districts and convenient residential locations closer to the stops ranked the highest.

“Neighborhoods that provide these local amenities encourage ridership,” he said. “And the more demand, the better the economic performance of the transit system.”

Keeping with this criteria the report looked at three major location identifiers for its results: Residential, employment and mixed. Grades were then given to these parts as they pertained to 11 key components including, walkability, ridership levels, existing land use and permitting policies, affordability and transit quality.

Perry explains that the goal for grading transit stops and locations is an effective way for the public and its officials to understand where improvements can be made, “Transit provides an opportunity to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take cars off the road, and protect open space, which is important given that the state’s population is expected to increase by nearly 30 percent over the next 35 years.”

None of the rail transit systems in California scored anything higher than a B overall. San Francisco’s MUNI took that grade while the other major light rail system in the bay area, BART, scored a B-. Los Angeles’ Metro Rail and Sacramento’s Regional Transit each scored a C, and finally San Diego MTS and Santa Clara VTA were at the bottom with a C-.

Light rail systems are a convenient and cost-effective way to travel short distances. In order for these transportation networks to truly thrive, they must serve ridership an ease of access to the things they do the most.

Next 10 hopes that by grading California’s rail transportation systems it can advance the state’s future with suggestions in improving the environment, the economy and the overall quality of life.

To read the full Grading California’s Rail Transit Station Areas click HERE.

Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.