North County bus and train ridership reduced by pandemic, report says

The number of passengers boarding North County Transit District buses and trains fell 46% systemwide in fiscal year 2020-21, according to a new report.

COVID-19 caused most of the decline, according to the NCTD’s annual operations performance report released Thursday. Statewide stay-at-home orders were initiated in March 2020 and in response that month the district reduced its Coaster commuter rail service and continued with fewer trains through May 24, 2021.

Sprinter trains, bus routes and on-demand FLEX and LIFT services, which are less likely to serve intercity commuters, continued their normal schedules.

As a result, Coaster ridership fell significantly more than other transit services during the year. Only 162,707 people boarded the train, down 83% from nearly one million passengers in the previous 2019-20 fiscal year and 1.4 million boardings in the financial year 2018-19.

Boardings is a term used to count each time a passenger boards a train or bus.

Boardings on Breeze buses were down 42% in fiscal year 2021, while Sprinter trains were down 41%. The Sprinter runs between Oceanside and Escondido and carries a high percentage of students.

Public transit ridership has plummeted across the country during the pandemic, which continues to restrict travel and work schedules.

More recent information shows that North County runners are starting to return. The district’s monthly report for November 2021, the most recent data available, shows system-wide ridership for buses and trains was 490,501 that month, an increase of 34.1% compared to the 365,638 registered users in November 2020.

Coaster boardings between Oceanside and San Diego peaked in 2015 with approximately 1.7 million passengers for the year. After that, it dipped for a number of reasons, including a downturn in the economy, and ridership spiked again when the pandemic hit, district executive director Matt Tucker said.

Transit ridership will always fluctuate in the short term, but over the years it can be expected to increase due to the area’s congested highways and rapid population growth, Tucker said. .

“The district has never operated with the equipment that is the highest and best use,” Tucker said. “Even with only 22 trains, (the Coaster) was one of the most efficient modes to reduce the kilometers traveled in the corridor.”

The addition of trains and buses makes public transit more convenient and easier to use by reducing travel time. The district is also investing in new, more reliable and fuel-efficient locomotives and buses with a long-term goal of zero emissions.

The Coaster grew to 30 daily trips in October, and the district plans to have an average of 45 weekday commuter trains by 2025.

Not everyone believes public transit will emerge from its pandemic crisis. Del Mar City Councilman Dan Quirk, an alternate on the NCTD board of directors, said the rail system is outdated and not worth further investment.

“The future of transportation, freight and transit lies in electric vehicles and autonomy – using the roads,” Quirk said in a recent letter criticizing the expansion of its streetcar system in San Diego.

“In light of COVID and the obvious momentum of electrification, the continued fixation on costly and conflict-inducing rail on the part of transit planners is bizarre and highly counterproductive,” Quirk said.

Other transit board members said Quirk’s belief in electric and self-driving vehicles was overly optimistic and the region would need other options, including rail, for many years to come.

“If we’re going to have continued population growth, we’ll have to align our infrastructure with our way of life,” Tucker said, and the future will likely be a mix of rail, road and other modes of transportation.

The Coastal Tracks are the only passenger and freight rail link between San Diego and Los Angeles and other points across the United States.

The San Diego segment of the Rail Corridor is used by Amtrak, Coaster, Sprinter, and BNSF trains.

Metrolink commuter trains in Orange County only go south to Oceanside, but under a recent agreement with NCTD, they could go as far as San Diego for special events in the near future.

About Kevin Strickland

Check Also

MBTA stairs stop at JFK/UMass, fixes are a “priority”

Longer waiting times for subway trains and shiny new decommissioned train cars. These are two …