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By Noel T. Braymer

Is is running now or not?

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The San Diego Airport’s bus shelter for Trolley passengers. Photos by Noel T. Braymer

As part of a major rebuilding and expansion of San Diego’s Airport, the airport has consolidated all rental car agencies into a single structure roughly a mile from the terminals on a site next to the freeway, railroad and Trolley tracks. Shuttle buses are used to carry rental car passengers to the terminals to reduce traffic congestion on the roads by using a new road on airport property to the terminals. Shuttle buses are also being run from an airport parking lot near the new car rental facility on the new road inside airport property going directly to the terminals. This started on January 20th. As part of of this project, a bus stop was planned for Trolley passengers from the Middletown Trolley Station. This Trolley station next to the airport near this bus stop will allow Trolley passengers to ride free shuttle buses to and from the terminal with buses used also for the airport parking lots.

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Well the bus stop for the Trolley passengers has been built. The parking lot shuttle buses that will stop for the Trolley passengers are now running and using the new airport road. There are even banners between the Trolley station and the Trolley airport bus stop saying Trolley-Terminal Shuttle. But no one seems to know if this new bus service for Trolley passengers is now open.There is no information or even directions at the Middletown station about the bus service or how or where to catch it. In the coming months there are plans to improve the sidewalks on Palm Street next to the Middletown station which are old and uneven to make it easier to get to the airport bus shuttle. The sidewalk improvements are not expected to be finished until summer. But the worst part of walking from the Trolley to the bus stop is walking across Pacific Highway. This is the old road that the freeway replaced. It is a busy road even today with 6 lanes of traffic, 3 lanes in each direction plus the 2 lanes to cross to get to the sidewalk of the new airport road to the bus stop. The bus stop is still several yards from Palm St and is difficult to see from the Trolley station. The funny thing is I didn’t see a bus stop on the opposite side of the airport road for Trolley passengers to get off to catch the Trolley. The worst part of walking across Pacific Highway is the long wait for a signal change to cross the street. Even when there is a signal change, the crossing signal doesn’t give pedestrians much time to cross this broad road before flashing red.

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The crossing of Pacific Highway on Palm St. between  the MIddletown  Trolley Station and the Airport Bus shelter

It is almost as if the airport doesn’t want the Trolley/Airport bus connection to work. Last year the Coastal Commission put limits on how much parking the airport could build near the terminals as part of the airport reconstruction. It seem odd that the airport wants to build new parking structures by the terminals, when its master plan call for moving all parking and having all passengers enter the airport next to the new car rental facility by the freeway, railroad and Trolley tracks. This is planned by around 2030 to include a people-mover to replace shuttle buses to carry passengers to the terminals which will be rebuilt and enlarged. This also includes a new train station at this site by the airport for passengers going to the airport. The Coastal Commission also recommended that the airport provide shuttle bus connections to the Old Town transit center for connections from bus and Coaster train passengers to the airport to reduce auto traffic around the airport. The airport’s reply was that it tried extending bus service to Old Town for its employees, but that few people used it. If it was run like the Trolley bus connection to the airport it is now, no wonder it failed. The reality for the airport is it earns revenues from parking, but not from running shuttle buses.

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The view roughly from the bus shelter looking towards the Middletown Trolley Station which is behind the 2 story white building. The bus shelter is not visible from the trolley station nor is the bus shelter visible from the trolley station.

Ideally there should be shuttle buses directly serving both Old Town and Middletown Trolley station. By that I mean the buses should go to the Trolley Station instead of expecting passengers to walk to the shuttle buses. It will be easier to give the buses signal preference crossing Pacific Highway and have less impact on traffic on Pacific Highway than groups of Trolley passenger constantly crossing the road. Also having the buses at the Trolley station will attract more people to ride the Trolley to the airport.

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A former rental car lot next to the Middletown Trolley Station.

One thing that is noticeable around Pacific Highway is there are lots of empty rental car lots now. That is because the rental car agencies have moved to the airport’s new consolidated rental car facility. This will open up land for development around both the Middletown and Washington St. Trolley stations which are both near Pacific Highway and the airport. In the near future is the extension of the Trolley’s Blue Line from downtown San Diego, past the airport north of Old Town to the UCSD area. This will mean up to 12 Trolley trains an hour in both directions going by the airport in the next 4 years of so with the combined Blue and Green  lines. This all adds up to plenty of demand for rail service connections to the airport. The city of San Diego recently approved major changes to its planning in order to meet legally required reductions in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. This includes reducing driving and use of vehicles run on fossil fuels. A good place to reduce fossil fuel use is to carry more passengers to the airport in San Diego by rail and not by car.

Trying to get information about the status of the airport shuttle bus connection to the Trolley wasn’t easy. On the internet the most recent news stories about the Trolley airport connection were from last year. I wrote to the MTS, which is the agency that operate the Trolley on its website. I got a phone call back saying that they didn’t know anything about it and that I should contract the airport. So I went to the website of the San Diego Airport. From their Home Page I clicked Parking and Transportation. From that page I clicked Public Transportation. From there I clicked Trolley Service and this is what I found.

TROLLEY → TERMINAL Shuttle Service

Passengers can also access the Green Line by taking the Trolley → Terminal shuttle service. The service is available from the transit islands at Terminals 1 and 2. The shuttle drops passengers off on the north end of the airport, just one block from the Middletown Station.

For those passengers wishing to catch the Trolley → Terminal shuttle from the Midtown Station, they should proceed one block Southwest on W. Palm Street and across Pacific Highway toward the airport property. A blue shuttle stop is located on Admiral Boland Way. Blue Economy Lot shuttles, marked with the Trolley → Terminal logo, stop there on regular intervals (typically less than 15 minutes apart).

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Well that confirmed that the airport is running the connecting Shuttle Buses for Trolley passengers now. But how many people are riding the buses and the Trolley to the airport? How many people even know this service exists or is running now? This is a perfect example of why public transportation is not used more. It is from the lack of coordination between different agencies, or even interest to make a service succeed. The airport is providing the buses, but so far all the promotion that we see is what I’ve printed from their website and a hand full of banners  placed between the Trolley station and the bus stop. There is no telling how well the buses and Trolley schedules will work and how long it will take Trolley passengers to get to the airport. This project as a great deal of promise, but may still need some work and public pressure to live up to its potential.

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