The North County Transit District (NCTD) is scheduled to vote this month on a proposal to ban all alcoholic beverages from Coaster trains.
A closer look reveals that the ban is an excessive and overreaching solution for a narrowly-defined public safety problem.
This is not the first time this issue has been raised. Last year, NCTD staff and transit enforcement officials cited excessive alcohol consumption as a problem, contributing to train crowding, fights, noise, littering, and underage drinking, particularly during the baseball season. In response, a total alcohol ban on Coaster trains was proposed, but was quickly tabled after the NCTD received “robust public feedback” on the issue, including a U-T San Diego editorial which denounced the proposal as “overkill.”
The current proposal would rescind NCTD’s alcohol policy, “Ordinance No. 2,” which allows open containers and alcohol consumption on trains until 9 p.m. In their recommendation for rescinding Ordinance No. 2, District staff state that “NCTD’s most compelling concern remains the attendant liability and risk to passengers and crew associated with the safety concerns created by consumption of alcohol on board COASTER.”
The proposal follows a Board evaluation of the recent “Civility Rules” public awareness campaign on Coaster trains, as well as increased transit enforcement.
As a Coaster rider, I understand the concerns for public safety. Still, a total alcohol ban is an extreme approach to addressing alcohol-related misconduct. It ignores the fact that most alcohol consumption does not result in intoxication or misconduct. It penalizes responsible adults who occasionally enjoy a beer or glass of wine on board. Complaints about misconduct aren’t likely to end with a ban – NCTD data reveals that alcohol-related incidents still occur on District buses and light rail trains, where alcohol bans are already in place.
Reasonable alternatives can be effective in preventing unwanted incidents. For example, Amtrak’s alcohol policy prohibits private stock alcohol consumption while allowing beer and wine sales on trains. This approach allows Amtrak to limit public alcohol consumption, prevent underage drinking (IDs are checked at the time of sale) and stop public intoxication (it is illegal to serve intoxicated individuals). Trash and littering are also curbed, as passengers aren’t allowed to bring their own beer or wine bottles on board for consumption.
The Coaster will always be an important transit option for many San Diego residents, who in addition to commuting, want to attend special events, concerts, and nightlife responsibly. It helps keep intoxicated drivers off the road, protecting our public safety. Young, loud crowds will undoubtedly still be taking Coaster trains in the evening hours, regardless if the ban passes. The better approach is to make on board alcohol consumption manageable under current transit enforcement staffing levels. Adopting the Amtrak policy would ensure this.
Addressing safety concerns with a more measured approach can help NCTD manage transit enforcement better, while also protecting the personal freedoms of responsible adults on board.
Vince Vasquez is a Carlsbad resident.