A man can be seen sitting in the trolley through a silhouetted pictured window at 12th and Imperial Avenue trolley station on May 1, 2023.
A man can be seen sitting in the trolley through a silhouetted pictured window at 12th and Imperial Avenue trolley station on May 1, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Late this week my Voice of San Diego colleague Julianne Markow suggested we ride the trolley from our downtown office to a climate event at UC San Diego. I jumped at the chance because not only was it a vibe for our destination, but also related to news from earlier this week.

Here’s what happened: The Metropolitan Transit System’s board on Thursday voted to add credit card tapping as a fare payment option. Right now, you need to have the system’s Pronto ticketing app or a physical plastic Pronto card to pay for your ride. Now, MTS wants to add an option to tap your credit card. That’s because the system’s ticketing app Pronto is kind of a headache, as we reported earlier this year.

Riders have plenty to say about the app and overall pay system. The overall message? It sucks. And not only do riders dislike the app, but it is also costing MTS millions of dollars because riders aren’t validating tickets before boarding.

Voice environment reporter MacKenzie Elmer wrote in May that MTS lost about $3 million in what’s known as “farebox revenue” in 2022. (Click here to read that story.)

Flashback: Pronto was something the transit system was stoked about launching two years ago with the promise that it would make riding transit easier than ever. Riders could download an app or load money to a plastic card.

It seemed fitting to ride the trolley after this week’s news to see if the Pronto system is as bad as some of our readers think it is. (Read their response to our story about Pronto here.)

Here’s How It Went

Photo by Andrea Lopez-Villafana

Immediately, I hit a snag during my experiment. After downloading the Pronto app, it wouldn’t open. I tried several times to get it to work, but the app did that annoying thing where it flashes open for a hot second and closes. Finally, I abandoned hope and decided to purchase a physical ticket at the Little Italy Station before jumping on the blue line. I just got back from a trip to Boston where riding the train was a breeze, so my faith in public transit was higher than normal.

It shouldn’t have been.

We missed the trolley by a minute, so we had to wait 15 minutes for the next one, but that was OK because I was still struggling to purchase a ticket. After giving up on the app, I finally went to the Pronto card machine for an $8 day pass ($6 for the day and $2 for the physical card). The machine spit out the purple plastic card and a receipt. I almost walked away when Julianne reminded me I need to tap the card against the card reader to validate and actually pay for my trip.

It’s easy to see why other riders miss that step. I would have paid for the card and walked away with a clear conscience, but my little $8 would have never made it into the coffers at MTS. Thanks to Julianne, I didn’t miss that step. Not all heroes wear capes. And not all transit systems make it easy to ride.

More Chisme to Start Your Week

  • Oceanside has a new plan to rebuild its beaches. Read about it here.
  • Tigist Layne reports that Escondido is shutting down a popular city-run preschool program. Parents are not happy about it, but city leaders say it’s no longer sustainable. Read that story here.
  • Some community college students could soon earn degrees without ever going to class. Jakob McWhinney explains how Southwestern College’s new competency-based education program works in the latest Learning Curve newsletter. Read it here.
  • This week on “Scott’s podcast” we explain how the City Attorney’s job could change if some people get their way. Listen to the latest VOSD Podcast episode here.
  • A little bit about me: Yet another federal judge has ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, created by President Barack Obama is illegal. If you know me, you know that I benefit from this program. I shared my immigration story in the Union-Tribune once. You can read that essay here. This news sucks.

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She welcomes conversations...

Join the Conversation


  1. I like your name, honey! Andrea Lopez-Villafaña My name is Smiechowski. My name is not liked in San Diego. Dan Smiechowski is a candidate for San Diego Mayor. Mexicans call me Daniel in Christ!

  2. Misleading title. Your story wasn’t about riding the trolley, but about buying a trolley ticket. I have a feeling someone at Voice didn’t attend Journalism school

  3. The trolley is VERY easy to ride. If you’ve never done it before, you will need to learn how to do it. That shouldn’t be surprising to anybody. Same story in any city in the world. Not really a problem.

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