District eyes private partnerships

   Although the North County Transit District doesn’t expect to restore previously reduced service in the near future, it is working with private and other entities to replace service already lost and to replace service expected to be lost.

   NCTD Board Chairman Bob Campbell was at a California Department of Transportation media day Feb. 9 that also included Metropolitan Transit System Director of Marketing and Communications Rob Schupp, Caltrans District 11 Director Laurie Berger, San Diego Association of Governments Executive Director Gary Gallegos, and California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Gary Dominguez.

   “We’ve had massive cuts as everybody else has,” Campbell said.

The loss of $10.5 million in state transit assistance resulted in previous cuts, including the 2008 elimination of the FAST flexible bus service in Ramona and three other communities and the elimination of most Route 386 trips to and from Ramona.

   The majority of NCTD’s $87 million operating budget comes from local TransNet half-cent tax or state Transportation Development Act sales tax revenue, and the decrease in sales tax revenue has reduced its funding.

   While the district’s annual $15 million capital budget cannot be used to subsidize operations, it can buy buses or other equipment, which would reduce operating costs. 

   NCTD also obtained a $2 million federal grant for sustainable energy projects, which are expected to reduce some operating costs for the district.

   A public workshop in March will allow for input on how NCTD can weather additional revenue reductions, although its board will make the final decision. The NCTD board consists of representatives of eight city councils and County Supervisor Bill Horn, who represents unincorporated North County on the group. Campbell is the mayor pro tem of Vista.

   NCTD Route 386 now consists of two morning round-trips and two afternoon round-trips into and out of Ramona. The latest morning bus into Ramona leaves Escondido Transit Center at 5:33 a.m. and the last morning bus into Escondido leaves Ramona at 6:30 a.m.

   Campbell is on the board of FACT (Full Access and Coordinated Transportation) and is involved with Ramona interests who desire the restoration of some type of service. 

   “We’re working with Ramona right now on a joint program,” he said.

Campbell expects that funding from Ramona organizations will cover some of the operational costs and NCTD will provide a portion of the operating expenses. 

   “Ramona’s going to have to come up with something,” Campbell said. “North County Transit can’t do it.”

   The district is also working with other private, nonprofit and tribal organizations to provide service in the absence of NCTD funding. 

   “The private side is going to have to step up, no question about it,” Campbell said.

Several Indian reservations provide bus service from a transit center to reservation casino, although riders under 18 are prohibited from using that transportation. The Federal Transit Administration has a Tribal Transit program that funds routes that serve reservations and bring tribal members to stores and services outside the reservation.

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