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San Diego Debuts Binational, All-Electric Commuter Bus Line

The Rapid 227 will allow riders to commute between the Otay Mesa border crossing and a variety of communities across the city. The express route will service every 15 minutes during commute hours and only has 10 stops.

Passengers at the Iris Avenue Transit Center in San Diego, CA
San Diego, CA - February 24: Passengers at the Iris Avenue Transit Center on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in San Diego, CA.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
A new express bus launched this month aims to make it easier to use mass transit to commute between California's Otay Mesa border crossing, Imperial Beach, Nestor and other nearby San Diego communities.

Because the route is served by all-electric 60-foot buses, it's also a key first step in the Metropolitan Transit System's plan to make its fleet all-electric by 2040.

Dubbed Rapid 227, the express bus is geared partly toward binational commuters who use the Otay border crossing's pedestrian lanes, which are slated for a significant expansion early next year.

Rapid 227 makes regular stops at the Iris Avenue Transit Center so commuters can connect to the entire San Diego Trolley system, including the Blue Line extension to UC San Diego.

To encourage commuters to try the new route, MTS is making it free through Tuesday.

"With the launch of Rapid 227, MTS will offer more than 600 extra hours of service between the border and Imperial Beach," said San Diego Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who also serves at MTS board chair. "The route will also feature new, cleaner, quieter electric buses."

It's the first MTS express route to use electric vehicles, which the agency recently began adding to its fleet. Most MTS buses are fueled by compressed natural gas.

MTS officials say all vehicles purchased in 2029 or later will be electric, helping the agency meet its goal of an all-electric fleet by 2040.

Rapid 227 is a high-frequency route, with service at least every 15 minutes during commute hours. It also makes limited stops — only 10 — making it possible for a commuter to get from the Otay border crossing to Imperial Beach in 40 minutes. It began running Oct. 15.

The 12 buses being used for Rapid 227 feature large windows and high-back seats. The buses are articulated vehicles, which means the front of the bus moves separately from the rear to allow for safer turns.

Additional features will be added to Rapid 227 next year, including new amenities at some stops, upgrades at the Iris Transit Center and a new stoplight at Coronado Avenue and 30th Street.

The buses will be charged by an $8.5 million overhead system that will help charge additional electric buses as MTS buys them. MTS officials said they are the first transit agency to build this type of charging infrastructure in North America.

In other MTS news, ridership rose by 10.4 percent during the agency's annual free ride day Oct. 4. The 280,000 total trips that day were the most since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to sharply shrink ridership.

Buses logged 135,885 passenger trips, and trolleys logged 145,321. The 281,206 total trips is up 5.7 percent over ridership on last year's free ride day.

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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