CARLSBAD — The North County Transit District is rolling out a five-year budget plan to improve service throughout the region.
Damon Blythe, chief operations officer of NCTD, updated the Carlsbad City Council on June 25 and said the district faces many challenges including declining ridership, which is down across the country as well, he said.
NCTD’s plan is to increase ridership along with improving the frequency of bus and train service. In addition, NCTD will implement a comprehensive program addressing first and last mile service.
First and last mile refers to getting people from their homes or office to transit in an effective manner.
“Just because you don’t ride transit doesn’t mean you don’t benefit from transit,” Blythe said. “Transit takes cars off the road, it reduces carbon emissions, so everybody benefits from it.”
Another big goal is addressing the Coaster train between Oceanside and San Diego during peak times, Blythe said. Currently, riders must wait between 25 to 60 minutes, while the new plan calls for train service every 30 minutes during rush hour and every 60 minutes in off hours.
As for the Sprinter, the goal is to reach a 15-minute service, although Blythe said NCTD will not reach it in five years. The reason, he said, is due to NCTD conducting a study to determine where to build more tracks, plus ordering new trains.
Currently, the Sprinter runs every 30 minutes during weekdays and weekends, except the timeframe is every hour during the morning and evenings on weekends.
Currently, NCTD runs 22 Coaster trains per day and the increase would add 20 trains into service.
“The key to getting people on a train, or any transit service, is frequency, speed and reliability,” Blythe added. “Where going to need to make some improvements on Breeze (bus service).”
AS for the first and last mile program, Carlsbad recently approved a pilot program with NCTD and the San Diego Association of Governments to promote transit from the Poinsettia station to business parks.
Blythe said NCTD will also conduct several studies including land use and transit integration, a strategic multimodal implementation plan and public benefits.
As for an increase in new locomotives and rail cars, Blythe said NCTD is partnering with SANDAG to receive funding and purchase the trains. Also, NCTD will increase its fleet of battery electric or hydrogen buses, per a state mandate requiring all buses be carbon-free by 2040.
Blythe said NCTD will start with procuring six battery-electric buses by 2020-21 and testing their viability.
“We’ll run those around our entire service area to determine how they work,” he added. “Then, we’ll start making some decisions of whether we want to continue down the battery-electric path or go to the hydrogen fuel cell path.”
NCTD is also pursuing a first-last mile program with California State University San Marcos in partnership with SANDAG and the city of San Marcos. He said the micromobility program will likely feature an autonomous vehicle from the Sprinter station to campus.
Also, he said upgrades to NCTD’s website and customer relationship management software will also help expedite service, booking travel and next generation fare collection.
“We’ll be monitoring some of the data in terms of understanding where the patterns are and where people are traveling,” said Carlsbad Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel, who is the city’s representative on the NCTD board of directors. “I’m really excited to see that come to fruition.”
Photo Caption: Construction workers lay down a second layer of track at Poinsettia Station in Carlsbad last month. The North County Transit District laid out its five-year plan to increase ridership, train service and carbon-free buses during a report at the June 25 Carlsbad City Council meeting. Photo by Steve Puterski