North County Transit Proposes Cuts To Bus Routes
UPDATE: 10:40 a.m., March 31, 2017
The North County Transit District has proposed significant reductions or eliminations of bus routes, in response to falling ridership.
The public will have a chance to comment at seven open houses in April, before the cuts are finalized in May.
The number of people riding buses and trains in North County is predicted to fall by more than 5 percent in 2017, compared to 2016. The transit district’s ridership is now below 12 million a year, and fare revenues have fallen by more than $1 million.
The agency is not increasing fares to make up the shortfall, but is considering cuts to 13 of its 32 North County BREEZE bus routes. The routes include buses to San Onofre, the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton and Old Palomar Hospital.
NCTD proposes substituting FLEX vehicles for some of the bus routes. FLEX service can be reserved in advance but costs $5 for adults, compared to $1.75 for a single adult bus ticket.
NCTD spokesperson Kimberly Wall said transit ridership is down nationwide as gas prices remain low and alternatives like Uber and LYFT compete with buses and trains.
“Obviously we’re trying to do the best business model we can to be cost effective, and to make sure routes are useful for people, and not ones that are running empty buses,” she said. “We’re looking to see what the public thinks of these changes, if they have other suggestions that might be better, and if there really is a public outcry that they don’t want some of these changed or eliminated.”
The cuts are estimated to save $2.3 million.
Ridership began to fall in 2015 and is now down about 10 percent over two years. Over that same period, NCTD’s budget has increased about 15 percent from $93 million to $108 million.
In February, the board adjusted the 2017 budget upwards by $3.3 million, mainly using “one time carryover funds from previous programs but not spent local monies.”
NCTD explained the 2017 budget increase this way: "The revision to the FY '17 budget was largely driven by the startup costs ($2 million) associated with awarding a new contract for bus and ADA para-transit operations, implementing changes in the facilities maintenance business model, adjusting for the downward ridership trends, and incorporating new revenues.
The District budget amendment was funded by sales tax monies programmed in prior periods but not drawn, as well as negotiated updates to reimbursements from shared use of the District rail lines."
Three full time staff have been added in 2017 to support ongoing construction. A second track is being added to the Coaster light rail line from Oceanside to San Diego, funded by the San Diego Association of Governments or SANDAG.
No cuts have been proposed for the Coaster and the Sprinter rail lines.
The board will decide at a public hearing on May 18th which bus routes will be affected.