County Transit System History


History and Highlights

1974 -- 2002

Southeast San Diego County Senior Citizens Advisory Program Board Inc. received a one-time federal grant to operate two vans from the Jacumba/Campo area into the suburban El Cajon/La Mesa area. When the federal funding ran out after 18 months, the group requested the County operate this new lifeline service.

San Diego County Rural Bus service begins with the County Board of Supervisors claiming Transportation Development Act (TDA) funds to subsidize the Southeast San Diego County Senior Citizens Advisory Program Board Inc. operation of the Southeast Rural Bus System. It is significant to note that the S/E Program Board still operates this service under County and soon to be an MTDB Contract.

Suburban bus service for the East County suburban area operated by San Diego Transit (SDT) as Routes 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 54 from 1975 to summer 1978.


County Department of Public Works competitively bid the 6 suburban East County and Poway fixed routes. North County Transit District (NCTD) won the bid and operated service from September 1978 through September 9, 1979.  NCTD elected to not continue the service and in summer 1979, County Public Works again bid the service competitively.

The initial success of the S/E Rural Bus System resulted in the County assisting the N/E mountain and desert communities by incorporating a Northeast Rural Bus Board Inc. to operate a North East Rural Bus System. CTS staff increased to handle the growing rural bus service and investigate the possibility of operating additional services under private sector contracts.

County awards private sector contract to Aztec Bus Lines and officially begins County Transit System (CTS) on September 10, 1979 for bus service in the rapidly growing East County and Poway suburban area. Suburban service officially designated as CTS. September 10, 1979 is the service start date with Aztec Bus Lines as the first suburban bus service private sector contractor for CTS.

CTS begins operating East County Senior/Disabled Paratransit Service known as WHEELS in December 1979. With the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, CTS disabled paratransit service continued to expand to match fixed route service days and hours. CTS ultimately takes over services previously operated by the cities of Coronado, Poway, National City, Chula Vista and service for the San Ysidro, Palm/Nestor communities within the City of San Diego. 

CTS routes officially redesignated the 800 series to conform to the new regional route numbering scheme on August 25, 1980. Original suburban routes were 844, 845, 846, 847, 848, 854 plus new route 856.  Aztec Bus Lines had first CTS driver strike that began on August 23, 1980 and lasted a few weeks until replacement drivers were hired.

East County Cab was hired to operate 4 vans on evening services Route 846, 847, and 848 and to provide 2 vans to operate Route 856.  The 14-passenger vans were utilized as a low-cost option to improve productivity and match low passenger volumes during the evening with smaller quieter vehicles.

CTS Commuter Express Bus Service began on the Interstate 5 and 15 corridors with Route 800 (2 trips morning and 2 trips evening to/from Oceanside) and Route 810 with one trip each way to and from Escondido to Downtown San Diego. CTS took over the former North County Transit District (NCTD) express trips to San Diego.  This peak hour only service connected North County communities with Downtown San Diego jobs. Contractors provided joint use vehicles (over the road tour-type buses) enabling them to transport commuters during peak hour traffic and use their buses off-peak for private charters and tours to reduce subsidies.

Cities of Santee and Poway were incorporated.  New local bus service agreements were established for CTS to provide local bus service to those new incorporated cities.

CTS starts 11 County employee vanpools.  County’s Vanpool program ends in 1992 due to aging vehicles, increased maintenance and operating costs, and improved vanpool options available through the private sector.

Oceanside Transit Center dedicated. Board of Supervisors rides AMTRAK up to ceremony in Oceanside.

Poway Airporter Service begins. Service was based on consultant report recommending Poway provide airporter service, dial-a-ride, express bus service to downtown (current Route 820) and the Route 844/845 fixed routes be converted into flex routes. 

Flex route concept was not popular in Poway and the service was reverted to a regularly scheduled fixed route within the year. Commuter Express Route 820 begins serving Poway to downtown via I-15 HOV lanes.

CTS discontinues staff support to CALTRANS’ Commuter Computer.  Elliot Hurwitz was last Commuter Computer representative from County. Commuter Computer eventually becomes SANDAG’s RideLink program. 

University Town Center Transit Center dedicated.

County purchases nine new Orion 30-foot and 35-foot heavy-duty transit coaches for East County suburban service. County owned equipment enables more contractors to bid on suburban contract and enhances service provision with modern new buses.

Vista Transit Center dedicated.

San Diego State University Transit Center dedicated.

Chula Vista Bayfront Trolley Station dedicated.

General Public Dial-A-Ride service was initiated for the Spring Valley, Casa De Oro and Rancho San Diego areas. Low population densities combined with difficult terrain made the Dial-A-Ride a good fit at that time.

Route 864 initiated on the Alpine to El Cajon corridor via Old Highway 80 and Alpine Boulevard.

Originally part of Rural Route 888 with three van trips a day, passenger demand, Viejas Casino activity and employment plus building boom results in the route going to over 30 trips per day using 40-foot standard heavy-duty buses. Route 864 is now the highest ridership route for CTS!

Route 843 initiated as cross-town Poway service. Route was discontinued in 1992 due to very low ridership and limited TDA funds available to Poway at the time.

CTS suburban routes expand significantly in conjunction with the San Diego Trolley’s East Line arrival at the El Cajon Transit Center serving several East County cities including Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and El Cajon. The El Cajon Transit Center was now fully utilized with an intermodal transfer station linking local buses, Greyhound intercity buses, and the San Diego Trolley.

Seventeen Counties –owned new 35-foot heavy-duty Gillig Buses supplement the original fleet of nine Orions.

Rural Bus System fleet transitions from 14 passenger vans with gasoline engines to diesel powered mini-buses with wheelchair lifts.

Escondido Transit Center dedicated. CTS Express Route 810 serves the transit center.

CTS assumes operation of general Public Dial-A-Ride services previously operated by the cities of El Cajon and Lemon Grove.

Commuter Express Route 870 begins serving Santee/El Cajon to Kearny Mesa via Mission Gorge Road.  Route later was shifted to State Route 52 when the new highway was opened.

Downtown Shuttle routes 871/872, specially priced local community shuttle services begin at request of City of El Cajon. 

Mini-buses replaced larger suburban coaches operating in various suburban residential areas.

Commuter Express Route 830 from South Bay to Kearny Mesa initiated. Service was discontinued in 1995 due to limited trips and passenger distribution problems in Kearny Mesa impacting ridership potential.

County Center/Little Italy Trolley Station opened. Provides trolley access for the County Administration Center.

Poway General public Dial-a-Ride service was discontinued. Some ridership absorbed into the CTS Wheels Seniors and Disabled mid-county service.

Seven-year Strategic Plan prepared by consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Recommendations include continuation and expansion of CTS’ role in suburban transit service provision and maximizing use of non-TDA funds for capital projects.

Route 844/845 out-of-direction service to Lake Poway retained through innovative use of Call Box at Lake connected to bus dispatcher. Since every trip can access the Lake upon demand ridership to Lake triples while revenue mileage to Lake reduced to a third.

Route 873, also called the “Madison Avenue Shuttle” initiated for El Cajon. $0.50 cash fare popular with riders and route achieves over a 60% farebox recovery ratio.

Six additional new Gillig 35-foot heavy-duty coaches purchased to supplement the suburban fleet. New County buses feature innovative Detroit Diesel Series 50 engines.

Lemon Grove Dial-A-Ride discontinued in favor of new community shuttle loop route 875.  The shuttle only $0.50 cash fare very popular with residents.

Route 816 initiated to take over eastern end of SDTC Route 16. CTS Route 816 then becomes MTDB Contract Services Route 916 in January 2001.

Guaranteed Ride Home services are an added feature for CTS Commuter Express bus passengers. Funded by a grant from the Air Pollution Control District, the service is expanded to NCTD’s Coaster pass holders in 1996.

CTS suburban routes significantly revised and Santee routes 831, 832, 833, 834 initiated to coincide with the Trolley’s extension to Santee. Three new Trolley Stations opened including Weld, Arnelle, and Santee.  A new transit center opened at Santee allowing six CTS routes to regularly meet the trolley.

Route 854 split into 854 and 855 to improve on-time performance and individual scheduling for different segments. Route 854 served the new Santee Trolley Station and El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside, while Route 855 served Grossmont Center and Spring Street trolley stations to the south in La Mesa and Spring Valley.

Route 877 initiated within the City of El Cajon. A weekday peak period service only, it connects the Weld Ave. Trolley Station with local schools and the El Cajon business parks.

Six additional new 35-foot heavy-duty Gillig transit coaches purchased to supplement the suburban fleet

NCTD Coaster commuter rail service takes place of CTS Route 800 service in the I-5 corridor. County then offers commuter express service to region and SDTC Routes 220 and 230 replaced by CTS Commuter Express Routes 850 & 860 serving Rancho Bernardo/Penasquitos to downtown via I-15 HOV lanes.  Routes reoriented into park and ride routes with over-the-road coaches and more direct service to downtown San Diego.

Southwestern College and Palomar College Transit Centers dedicated.

Oceanside Transit Center and Bayfront Trolley Station expansions completed.

Grossmont College Bus Stop Improvements completed. Essentially a small transit center, College preferred to call new facility a bus stop.

Route 841 or the “Poway Trolley” is initiated as a weekend only shuttle to serve the downtown area.  Route discontinued in 1998 due to limited ridership and City’s desire to start Route 844A serving the new South Poway Industrial Park.

Eleven mid-sized buses added to the suburban fleet to accommodate ridership demand. Initially purchased by service contractor, County ultimately buys the equipment to reduce operating costs.  

Flex Routes 851 and 853 begin. Innovative flex route services to partially replace Dial-A-Ride services in the Spring Valley, Casa De Oro and Rancho San Diego areas are introduced with lower fares. 

Route 874 flex route begins serving the east side of El Cajon based on success of Routes 851 and 853. Selected trips serve Saint Madeline Sophie’s Center and Christian Heritage College.

CTS invited to make “Best in Class” presentation to County Chief Administrative Officer level staff for innovative projects and leadership in contracting out public services.

CTS Management Alternatives Study complete. Board of Supervisors in February accepts recommendation for continuation of County management of the County Transit System.

CTS orders eight new mid-size buses to replace existing fleet of mini-buses for the Rural Bus System. New buses are larger to accommodate passenger demand – especially on the Highway 94 corridor serving Tecate.

Route 844A service begins to the new South Poway Industrial Park.

Regional financing plan approved, all cities and County unincorporated area within the MTDB area share TDA funding instead of receiving individual allocations based on population. Financing plan enables CTS to receive federal funds through MTDB for rolling stock and transit facilities previously funded with local city/county TDA funds.

County Suburban Transit Study to assess future suburban transit needs completed. Consulting firm URS/BRW worked with Steering Committee for over a year to review service needs and recommend future improvements.

CTS takes delivery of 40 new minibuses and vans for use on the new CTS ADA paratransit contract that began July 1, 2000.  MTDB utilized federal funds to purchase new vehicles and lease them to CTS for ADA paratransit operations.

Rural Bus System fleet transitions from mini-buses to purpose-built, mid-size buses.

April 4 - Board of Supervisors directs staff to explore possibility of divestiture of CTS to MTDB and authorizes joint CTS/MTDB contract procurement for East County suburban operations contract.  O’Melia Consulting hired to assist in preparing analysis and draft divestiture agreement.

September 30 - East County Suburban places 33 New Flyer low floor heavy-duty 40-foot transit buses into service.  Buses are provided by MTDB lease for $1.00 per year per bus. County also purchases seven new mid-sized buses. New regional paint scheme is applied to 40 new buses.

February 13 – Board of Supervisors approves divestiture of CTS to MTDB.

February 28 - MTD Board accepts divested services and facilities. Divestiture activities begin.

April 24 – County Board of Supervisors approves major expansion of Services for the Rural Bus System.  Higher frequency corridor service and additional rural intra-community service scheduled for implementation in December 2002. Six mini-buses to be purchased to supplement existing fleet of eight mid-sized buses.

May & June – CTS staff move into new MTDB Multi-Modal Operations facility.

June 28,2002 – Final divestiture of CTS services and facilities to MTDB.