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Sprinter Ridership Declines Following Shutdown

Photo by Alison St John

The Sprinter at Oceanside Station, 2013

North County’s transit agency is struggling to regain the ridership it had before the Sprinter light rail was shut down due to brake problems. The number of people using the train is significantly down from the same time last year.

Average weekday ridership on the Sprinter light rail line between Escondido and Oceanside in May was down 23 percent from the same month last year. The Sprinter returned to service May 18 after the North County Transit District shut it down for more than two months because of premature wear on the brakes.

Average ridership on Saturdays and Sundays in May was down 15 percent and 7 percent respectively.

During the time the Sprinter was shut down, only about one-third of the people who normally rode the train chose to ride the buses provided to replace it.

North County Transit District officials said commuters may be adjusting their schedules yet again before getting back on the train.

Commuters may also have missed the deadline to buy a monthly pass. Monthly passes run from the first of the month and have to be purchased by the 20th of the previous month. That means commuters had only two days after the train came back online to get their passes.

The agency also hopes ridership will pick up again when students return to school after the summer vacation. A high proportion of the riders are students commuting to Palomar College and Cal State San Marcos.

Passenger fares on the Sprinter are highly subsidized and make up just under 20 percent of the cost to operate the rail service. Many light rail systems operate with a fare recovery rate of well under 50 percent. However, increasing ridership is a key element of the transit agency's goals.

The Federal Transit Administration is currently looking into the agency's contracting practices.

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