One of the oldest transit systems in Southern California, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System began operation in the 1880s. It is one of the most advanced and dynamic transportation networks in North America. Approximately 95 million people use MTS buses and trolleys each year.
In 1886, the San Diego Street Car Company opened the first line of the city’s public transportation system, drawn by mules or horses drawn by two mules. A total of five lines would eventually run through Downtown San Diego. There was already a plan in place for an electric streetcar line to begin operating in San Diego at the same time as the horse-drawn line opened in 1887. As a result of Spreckels’ successful ballot initiative, he obtained a charter amendment from the City of San Diego, giving him over 25 years of leases on streetcar services. SDERy was able to expand its services due to the passage of the initiative. In 1916, the “Great Flood” washed out several streetcar lines, severely damaging the electric streetcar system. As a result of World War I, the cost of railway construction materials increased by 50 to 150 percent. As more automobiles became available, more people became jitney drivers, cruising the routes of the streetcars to pick up fares. Motor buses first appeared on San Diego’s streets in 1922, connecting National City with Chula Vista. San Diego became the first major city in California to become fully bus-dependent on April 24, 1949, when the last rail service was discontinued.
Below are some fascinating vintage photos that show the bus system of San Diego in the 1970s.