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The program will be valid for all MTS and NCTD fixed-route bus service, the trolley, SPRINTER and COASTER. Courtesy photo/NCTD
The program will be valid for all MTS and NCTD fixed-route bus services, the trolley, Sprinter and Coaster. Courtesy photo/NCTD
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Free transit fare pilot program for foster care youth in effect

REGION — A pilot program that went into effect on July 1 offers free transit fares for people 18 through 24 who have previously been in and exited the foster care system, or who are currently in Extended Foster Care.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and North County Transit District approved the PRONTO Extend pilot program in June “to provide support and improve access to opportunity for former foster youth and young adults currently in foster care as they transition into more independent living,” according to a statement from the transit agencies.

“Young adults who have aged out of the foster care system face unique challenges as they enter adulthood,” said Nathan Fletcher, MTS board chair and chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Many of the transitional age youth don’t have social safety nets or financial support from their families.

“Our goal with the PRONTO Extend program is to offer additional resources to ease that transition from foster care to more independent living,” he said. “Being able to have free transportation to school or jobs is an important stepping stone to help them succeed.”

The program will be valid for all MTS and NCTD fixed-route bus services, the trolley, Sprinter and Coaster. Passes became available Friday.

“Whether participants are going to work, out for a day of fun or headed to school, transit will be their answer for a free ride they can rely on,” said Jewel Edson, NCTD board chair and Solana Beach Councilwoman. “The NCTD Board of Directors are hopeful that PRONTO Extend will open a world of opportunities for the participants and bolster their lives.”

According to research by CALYouth, around 25% of youth exiting foster care in California experience homelessness. About 77% wish they could get a higher education degree, but by age 21, fewer than 25% are able to enroll in a two-year or four-year college due to financial hardship or lack of resources.

“Like any youth transitioning into adulthood, the young adults who are or were involved with foster care have significant needs to become independent; and reliable, affordable transportation is at the top of that list,” said Kimberly Giardina, director of the county’s Child Welfare Services.

The program will run for 18 months, from Friday through December 31, 2023.

Eligible participants will have one of the following current, valid forms from the County of San Diego, or other county jurisdiction:

— Notice of Action form; or

— Proof of Dependency/Wardship Letter.

To apply, visit sdmts.com/PRONTO-Extend.

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