North County Transit District

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North County Transit District (NCTD)
North County Transit District.svg
LocaleNorth San Diego County, California
Transit typeMulti-Modal regional transit network consisting of:
Number of lines30 daily + 4 FLEX bus routes
1 light rail line
1 commuter rail line
Number of stations15 light rail stations
8 commuter rail stations
WebsiteNorth County Transit District (NCTD)
Began operationSeptember 30, 1975; 45 years ago (1975-09-30)[1]
Operator(s)NCTD operators:
Reporting marksNCTC, SDNX
Track gauge4 ft 8½ in (1435 mm) (standard gauge)
System map

San Diego commuter rail map.png

The North County Transit District (NCTD) (reporting mark NCTC) is the agency responsible for public transportation in North San Diego County, California, United States. NCTD provides 12 million passenger trips per year.[1] NCTD's geographic area is approximately 1,020 square miles (2,600 km2) with an approximate population of 842,000 people.[2] NCTD is governed by a Board of Directors.

The agency owns the COASTER commuter rail service between Oceanside and Santa Fe Depot, and the SPRINTER hybrid light rail service between Oceanside and Escondido, both operated under contract by Bombardier. NCTD also owns the BREEZE bus service, LIFT paratransit service, and FLEX on-demand and point-deviation service.

NCTD owns 62 miles (100 km) of mainline track (specifically that of the Surf Line) from the Orange County-San Diego County line to the San Diego Santa Fe Depot (entirely used by Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and BNSF Railway, while partially used by Metrolink). The COASTER commuter rail service runs on 41.1 miles (66.1 km)[3] of the mainline; on the stretch between the Oceanside Transit Center and the San Diego Santa Fe Depot. In addition to the San Diego County portion of the Surf Line, NCTD also owns the 22 miles (35 km)[4] Escondido Branch that has been used by the SPRINTER and the Pacific Sun Railroad since 2008.

The North County Transit District owns and maintains two rail yards for their COASTER commuter rail service. The first yard is the main maintenance and servicing facility located north of Oceanside at Stuart Mesa on Camp Pendleton, and it is shared with Metrolink and the Pacific Sun Railroad. The second yard is shared with the San Diego Trolley at 12th & Imperial in Centre City San Diego; this rail yard stores trainsets during mid-days until they're ready to be used again for northbound services. In addition to their two COASTER rail yards, NCTD also owns a maintenance facility and rail yard for their Sprinter service in Escondido, between Escondido Transit Center and Nordahl Road station.


The North San Diego County Transit Development Board (NSDCTDB) was established in 1976 by California Senate Bill No. 802 to plan, construct, and operate public transit in North San Diego County.[2] The Board quickly acquired the municipal transit systems operated by the cities of Escondido and Oceanside. The Board also designed a regional transit system consisting of local and regional corridor routes to serve the transportation needs of North San Diego County.

In 1982, planning began for the Coast Express Rail (COASTER) commuter rail service. On June 2, 1994, the Board created a non-profit corporation called the San Diego Northern Railway (SDNR) to maintain, enhance, and operate the COASTER. SDNR purchased the tracks to be used by the COASTER from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1994; SDNR was later dissolved in 2002. On February 27, 1995, COASTER service commenced.

On January 1, 2003, Senate Bill 1703 was enacted, transferring responsibility for future transit planning, programming, development, and construction to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), San Diego's regional planning agency. In 2005, the State Legislature changed NSDCTDB's name to the North County Transit District (NCTD).

In March 2008, after many years of planning, the SPRINTER hybrid light rail began service. FLEX on-demand service began in 2011.

In fiscal year 2009, NCTD projected annual operating deficits of more than $24 million by 2014. In response, NCTD made proactive changes to maintain transit services and related jobs, including reducing staff and renegotiating and restructuring various contracts. These changes closed a five-year, $80 million budget gap. The new business model also allowed NCTD to lower fares, increase service and ridership, and grow its financial reserves.

NCTD relies on public funding. In 1987, voters approved the Proposition A TransNet Ordinance, which provided funding for future transit projects and improvements to the existing system. In November 2004, voters approved a 40-year extension of the TransNet sales tax, which will allow NCTD to continue to operate service for many years.

In August 2018, NCTD announced that they were seeking public opinions and input on a re-brand of the agency. This included two new paint scheme ideas for COASTER, along with the existing scheme being used as a third option. The new COASTER livery was eventually chosen at the end of that year, and is currently being implemented on the legacy COASTER fleet, with the new locomotives and passenger cars set to arrive in the new livery as well. In addition to the COASTER livery re-branding, a new cross-platform NCTD website was launched in early 2019 as the agency reorganized itself to be more accessible with its services.[citation needed]


NCTD provides public transit in North San Diego County, from La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean, east to Poway and Ramona, and from Oceanside and the Orange County border south through Del Mar to UCSD in La Jolla, with connections extending to downtown San Diego. NCTD offers the following services:

BREEZE Bus Service[edit]

The BREEZE Bus Service serves as the main form of public road transportation for residents of North San Diego County. What is now known as the BREEZE began in 1976 when NCTD acquired the municipal bus systems serving Escondido and Oceanside.

The annual ridership of BREEZE buses is 7.9 million people, with an average weekday ridership of 25,800 people. More than 2,600 bus stops and 9 transit centers service the BREEZE route. The fleet comprises 161 vehicles, including 120 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.[5]

In November 2009, NCTD approved outsourcing all bus and rail operations effective July 1, 2010, to First Transit.[6] The agency anticipated saving $70 million over seven years with the move.[6] Fleet and facility operators remained NCTD employees until their contracts expired June 30, 2011.

As of January 2013, NCTD offers 30 BREEZE bus routes plus 4 FLEX zones.[5]

Current BREEZE Fleet Roster[edit]

Images Numbers Year Manufacturer Model Fuel Notes
1101-1153 2000 New Flyer D40LF Diesel
  • Most units have been retired.
  • 1134, 1138, 1139, 1141, 1145, 1147 & 1150 remain in service.
0416–439 2010 Ford/StarTran E-450/Senator E-LO Diesel
  • Some units have been reassigned to FLEX and LIFT services, while the remaining BREEZE units are to be retired by 2020.
2201–2210 2003 New Flyer C35LF CNG * To be replaced by XN35 buses when delivered.
2301–2323 2004 New Flyer C40LF CNG
  • 2301-2306 are used for BREEZE Rapid and have been repainted in that service's livery.
  • Supplemented by XN40 buses.
2401–2433 2005 New Flyer C40LF CNG
  • Supplemented by XN40 buses.
2501–2512 2007 New Flyer C40LF CNG
  • Supplemented by XN40 buses.
2771-2777 2007 ENC EZ-Rider II CNG
  • Transferred from MTS, retain red seating moquette
  • Short term replacement for Senator E-LO fleet until the XN35 units arrive
2601–2630 2012 New Flyer XN40 CNG
  • First buses ordered with the current NCTD Breeze paint scheme.
2701–2726 2016 New Flyer XN40 CNG
  • Includes 77 options.
1901-Series 2020 New Flyer XN35 CNG
  • First units delivered December 2019.
  • Will eventually replace C35LF and EZ-Rider II fleets

BREEZE Rapid Bus Service[edit]

BREEZE Rapid is a bus rapid transit service operated by the North County Transit District in Escondido, California, in North County, San Diego. The service operates north to the Escondido Transit Center and south to the Westfield North County mall and Del Lago Transit Center, primarily along Escondido Boulevard and Bear Valley Parkway. BREEZE Rapid replaced previous local Line 350 service, although the route remains branded as Line 350. The route officially launched on June 7, 2011, with dedicated buses and branded stops.

The route is approximately six miles long and at build out, service will take approximately 20 minutes from end to end, a 20% reduction in time from previous service. Current headways are 15 minutes during weekdays and 30 minutes during nights and weekends, but the proposed build out headway is 10 minutes during weekdays and 15 minutes on weekends.

The BREEZE Rapid buses used are all New Flyer C40LF CNG buses that previously operated with the main BREEZE fleet. These buses are painted in a special BREEZE Rapid livery that is used to distinguish them from normal BREEZE buses. However, these buses are still assigned to normal BREEZE bus routes as well when not in use on BREEZE Rapid.

SPRINTER Hybrid Light Rail[edit]

The SPRINTER is a 22-mile (35 km) hybrid (diesel engines in passenger cabins) rail line that runs east and west between Escondido and Oceanside.[4] A total of 455 trains run every week.[4]

The SPRINTER's first day of service was March 9, 2008.[4] The annual ridership was 2.5 million people in 2015,[4] with an average weekday ridership of 8,300 people.[4] Fifteen stations are served by the Sprinter route.[4] SPRINTER equipment includes 12 Siemens Desiro diesel multiple unit passenger trains.[4] Bombardier Transportation operates the SPRINTER.[4]

COASTER Commuter Rail[edit]

The COASTER is a 41-mile (66 km) commuter rail service that runs north and south between Oceanside and Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego.[3] A total of 126 trains run every week,[3] with expanded service offered in the spring and summer and additional trains scheduled for special events as needed.

The COASTER's first day of service was February 27, 1995.[3] The annual ridership is 1.7 million people, with an average weekday ridership of 5,700 people in 2015.[3] The COASTER route serves 8 stations on its route, including the termini at Oceanside and Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego.[3] Currently, COASTER equipment consists of 7 locomotives and 28 bi-level coaches.[3] Bombardier Transportation operates the COASTER.[3]

Transit Connections[edit]

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner: Oceanside, Solana Beach, Santa Fe Depot

San Diego Trolley: Old Town, Santa Fe Depot (Green/Blue Lines)

SPRINTER: Oceanside

LIFT Paratransit Service[edit]

LIFT vehicles provide origin to destination service for people with disabilities who are unable to use BREEZE buses due to their disability and have been certified for eligibility, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Service is available for trips within ¾ mile of fixed bus routes.

The LIFT's first day of service was January 1, 1993. The American Logistics Company operates the LIFT.[7]

FLEX On-Demand Service[edit]

FLEX is an on-demand service in parts of southwest Carlsbad and Ramona, where BREEZE service is not available. FLEX vehicles take passengers anywhere within the FLEX zone or to the nearest transfer point on the BREEZE, Coaster, or SPRINTER. The American Logistics Company operates the FLEX service.[5]

Organization, policies, and initiatives[edit]

A Board of Directors governs NCTD. The Board includes members from Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Solana Beach, San Marcos, Vista, and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.[8]

Green initiatives[edit]

NCTD has implemented cutting-edge green initiatives and sustainability programs that minimize the environmental impact of public transit. NCTD recently installed solar panels, saving the agency $1 million in energy costs over five years. NCTD has increased recycling and improved lighting and is using biodegradable cleaning supplies. In addition, NCTD has received grant funding to install electric smart car chargers in transit center parking lots.[2]

Compass Card[edit]

In September 2008, SANDAG introduced a new contactless "Compass Card" using technology by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc. The Compass Card allows passengers from NCTD and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System to store regional transit passes and/or cash value on a re-writeable RFID card.

As of January 2012, customers may purchase and add value to Compass Cards at 42 Albertson's grocery stores in North San Diego County.[9]

Smoking ban[edit]

No smoking sign at the Vista Transit Center. Notice the butt receptacle placed about 10 feet behind the sign next to the ticket vending machines.

On October 16, 2008, NCTD board members unanimously voted to adopt NCTD Ordinance 1, banning smoking at all transit centers, train stations, and bus stops. The ban does not apply to parking lots at transit centers and there is no penalty for anyone found noncompliant with the ordinance.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2011, an artist surreptitiously installed a mosaic on the wall of a COASTER bridge near the Encinitas station that came to be known as "Surfing Madonna". In early 2012, the Encinitas City Council voted to accept the mosaic under a long-term loan agreement and to support a proposal to put the mosaic on publicly owned land near Moonlight Beach. The Encinitas City Council stipulated that acceptance of the mosaic is contingent upon the artist, Mark Patterson, signing an agreement that he will pay for the mosaic's removal if it becomes the subject of a religious-imagery lawsuit.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "NCTD Overview – Who We Are". North County Transit District. 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "NCTD Fact Sheet" (PDF). North County Transit District. February 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "COASTER Fact Sheet" (PDF). North County Transit District. January 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2016. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "SPRINTER Fact Sheet" (PDF). North County Transit District. June 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "BREEZE and FLEX Fact Sheet" (PDF). North County Transit District. January 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Lavelle, Janet (November 20, 2009). "Outsourcing of NCTD's bus services is approved". U-T San Diego (San Diego Union-Tribune). The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  7. ^ "LIFT Fact Sheet" (PDF). North County Transit District. January 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  8. ^ "Board of Directors – NCTD". North County Transit District. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  9. ^ "Coaster Compass Card". North County Transit District. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  10. ^ "Minutes of the Special Meeting/Closed Session and the Regular Meeting of North County Transit District" (PDF). North County Transit District. October 16, 2008. p. 4. Retrieved March 6, 2009.
  11. ^ Henry, Barbara (January 25, 2012). "ENCINITAS: City will accept long-term loan of surfing Madonna mosaic". U-T San Diego (San Diego Union-Tribune). The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. Retrieved August 11, 2013.

External links[edit]