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.
Tribal Transit grants allow a tribe or consortium to contract with existing transit operators, and ridership is not restricted to tribal members. In January 2009 NCTD used a Tribal Transit grant for a connection from the Pala Indian Reservation to the Escondido Transit Center. The line serves four other reservations and Valley Center. The grant was requested by the Reservation Transit Authority, a consortium of 20 member tribes in San Diego and Riverside counties that worked with NCTD to operate the expanded service.
The Tribal Transit grant was less than requested. The application for the full amount also called for service between Ramona and the Santa Ysabel reservation (which would also serve the Mesa Grande reservation), from Ramona to the El Cajon Transit Center through the Barona reservation, between the Viejas and Campo reservations, and from Viejas to the El Cajon Transit Center through the Sycuan reservation. (Most of the starting/ending points were Indian health centers rather than reservation casinos.) Campbell is hoping to expand Indian transit as part of the “private-public” effort.
“There’s a win-win hiding in there somewhere. We’re just trying to figure it out,” he said.
Campbell noted that any private-public partnership would require that the public be informed about the benefits of using the transportation service. “I think it’s a matter of marketing it as well,” he said. “You need riders to make the whole thing work.”
The Marine Corps, Indian nations, Ramona community groups, or others participating in private-public partnerships will likely join NCTD in the marketing efforts.
“ I’m willing to do anything anyone wants to help support,” Campbell said. “Somehow we’ll come up with some solutions here.”