By Noel T. Braymer
San Diego County has 3 intra-county rail passenger services. There is the Sprinter, a 22 mile DMU service between Oceanside and Escondido. There is also the Coaster, the 40 mile locomotive hauled commuter service between Oceanside and downtown San Diego. And the oldest service since 1981, the San Diego Trolley, has 53 miles of Light Rail with three lines, the Blue, Orange and Green lines serving the greater San Diego Metro area. To a great degree all of these services connect to each other and to many of the transit buses in the region which share transit centers at the train station. San Diego a good model for the rest of California and the Country.
The newest service is the Sprinter, running since 2008. When it opened, North County Transit also revamped most of its bus schedules to connect to the Sprinter. In some cases bus lines where shortened or rerouted to allow faster service by transferring to the Sprinter. Most of the riders on the Sprinter transfer either to or from buses. The parking lots at the Sprinter stations still have plenty of rooms for more cars. The Sprinter has a memory schedule, something which is common in other countries such as Switzerland. Trains run every half hour in each direction stopping at each 15 stations at the same minute after the hour. An example of the bus connections to the Sprinter can be found at the Escondido Transit Center which is a terminus for the Sprinter. At the top and bottom of the hour, shortly after the Sprinter arrives can be seen a line of buses that connect to the Sprinter leaving the transit center in a line to their different destinations.
Also at the Escondido Transit Center is the MTS Rapid Bus 235 which was introduced last summer which run mostly on I-15 between Escondido and downtown San Diego. The 235 bus stop in Escondido is right next to the Sprinter Platform.The 235 and the Sprinter’s schedules allow the 235 to connect to all of the Sprinters. There are more frequent 235 buses than the Sprinter: the 235 runs every 15 minutes during rush hours and later at night than the Sprinter. Both services get quite a few passengers transferring between each other. The 235 stops only at transit centers next to the I-15 until it enters downtown San Diego. In the past most freeway bus services rarely did well because freeways are not near where bus riders need to go and there were few stations along a freeway. Ridership on the 235 is doing very well. This is largely due to good connections at the I-15 transit centers to local buses. Many of these connections are timed connections so usually there is a short wait to transfer between buses and trains. The 235 also connects to the Trolley Blue and Orange Lines at the City College Trolley Station in downtown San Diego and the Green line at the Santa Fe Depot also downtown.
The Coaster has been running since 1995. It is primarily a commuter service with most trains running during rush hours so it doesn’t have a memory schedule. But it does stop at stations which are all transit centers served by several bus lines. The Coaster also connects to the Trolley’s Green Line at the Old Town Station and the Orange and Blue Lines at the downtown Santa Fe Depot. The Sprinter also connects to the Coaster at Oceanside.
The oldest local San Diego rail service is the San Diego Trolley. From the start of the second Trolley Line in 1986, the Orange Line has had cross platform connections from it to the Blue Line at the 12th and Imperial Trolley Station at the edge of downtown San Diego. Originally they were timed to allow passengers on the Orange Line to transfer to the Blue Line for trips going south towards San Ysidro by the Mexican Border. Now that the Blue Lines runs every 7,5 minutes the trains are adjusted to give passengers 3-4 minutes for a smooth transfer. The same is also true for the Green Line connections to the Blue Line at 12th and Imperial.
There is also a connection between the Green and Orange Lines at the Grossmont Shopping Center Station in El Cajon. There is also a connection in the reverse direction from downtown San Diego on the Orange Line to the west bound Green Line. Both these connections are timed so the trains arrive at the stations at about the same time. In most cases there is time for passengers to transfer. If one train is significantly late the passenger take the next trains which runs every 15 minutes most of the day.
When the San Diego Trolley first opened in 1981, there were questions about plans to extend and terminate the original service at the Santa Fe Depot. There were complaints that doing so was a waste of money and it wouldn’t handle much ridership. By 1981 there were 7 round trip San Diegan trains between San Diego and Los Angeles carrying over a million passengers a year. Shortly after the Trolley began service, the Santa Fe Depot became one of the busiest stations for the Trolley
At a time when many transit services are seeing declining ridership, the MTS, the operator of the Trolley and most of the buses in San Diego celebrated record ridership. There is still room for improvement in San Diego County. The Sprinter and Coaster trains often don’t connect directly with each other. The same is true for the Sprinter with the Metrolink trains at Oceanside. Also there is almost no connections between Metrolink and Coaster trains in Oceanside. But all in all there is much to learn about connecting services in San Diego County. The first Transit center was built in Oceanside in 1984. This was the first intermodal station built as such in California if not the nation to connect several transit bus lines, intercity bus lines, and rail service in one location for easy transfers between modes. San Diego County has long been a leader in connections.