By Karen Brainard
Advocates for public transportation and officials from the North County Transit District (NCTD) agreed to work together and try to increase ridership after reaching an understanding about rising costs and Ramona’s transit needs at a meeting on May 16.
Timothy McCormick, director of service planning, and Alex Wiggins, communications director, both with NCTD, scheduled the meeting in Ramona after receiving a large number of survey responses and hearing public testimonies about NCTD’s proposed changes.
About 14 women, most representing health or social services agencies, attended the meeting at the Ramona Community Center, explaining their clients’ public transportation needs and financial limitations. With one-way bus fare from
Ramona to Escondido increasing from $1.75 to $5, one woman said it would be almost cheaper to drive.
“Unfortunately it’s one of the routes that costs us significantly more,” replied Wiggins. Filling the bus to capacity would help, he said.
McCormick pointed out that the bus must travel empty about 20 miles from the garage to reach Ramona in the morning to transport residents to Escondido. Then the bus travels back empty to Ramona for a second run.
“We have to pay the driver and pay the fuel,” McCormick said, adding that by using a smaller vehicle for the Ramona to Escondido route, NCTD will be able to lower those expenses.
“I’m not happy about charging $5 (one-way),” said McCormick. “I’m doing everything I can to create something sustainable.”
Recognizing Ramona’s mobility needs, NCTD has proposed a flex service with a Monday through Friday mid-day route from Escondido to Ramona at 11:30 a.m. and Ramona to Escondido at 1 p.m. This, the NCTD officials explained, will aid those with medical appointments in Escondido. For instance, a resident with an afternoon appointment could take the 1 p.m. route to Escondido and return to Ramona during a late afternoon commuter route. The one-way cost will be $10 or $5 for senior/disabled.
Also added will be a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. one-day a week service within Ramona for a one-way cost of $5 or $2.50 senior/disabled. The zone does not include San Diego Country Estates at this time.
Both of the above flex services will require reservations at least half an hour in advance. Reservations can also be made up to a month in advance.
LaVonna Connelly, coordinator of Ramona Transportation Access Committee (RTAC) said she understood NCTD’s financial position but also emphasized the hardships for some people in Ramona. Wiggins suggested they work together to market the new flex service and try to increase ridership which would help offset the operating costs. He also suggested finding a third-party organization that could help subsidize costs.
“We totally understand the need for independence and flexibility. This is a first step,” said Wiggins. The changes will take place in August. Monthly Coaster passes will be accepted for the bus route.