Between me and a fellow passenger at a Sprinter station this morning, we racked up over a dozen attempts at getting the ticket machines to accept our credit cards. Neither of us could pay our fare.

That experience reminded me that North County Transit District was the subject of two Grand Jury reports: one finding that the Sprinter’s ticket machines don’t work as often, or as well, as they’re reported to work, and the other finding that the agency provides only limited space for disabled riders.

At issue, the Grand Jury found, was that NCTD met only minimal state and federal standards for riders with disabilities on its Sprinter trains, which often meant that people with wheelchairs had to jostle for space with people who had bikes. The report recommended providing separate space for bike storage, and removing some seats to create additional area for disabled riders.

NCTD responded at the end of August, saying the Grand Jury needs to show more proof that there’s a problem.

“Over the course of the last fiscal year, NCTD has received a total of seven customer complaints related to concerns about alleged unsafe interactions or issues between bicycles and wheelchairs,” the agency wrote. “NCTD believes that the small number of complaints indicates that this is not a pervasive problem and is likely episodic and tied primarily to special events and heavy passenger loads when operating one versus two coupled SPRINTER trains.”

The agency would not modify cars, add signage and security cameras because the recommendations were not feasible or warranted, the response continued.

“NCTD will take steps to ensure SPRINTER Train Conductors focus more on the shared-space area during trips to ensure unsafe conditions do not arise,” it said.

The second report the Grand Jury produced found that the Sprinter’s ticket machines were failing more often than reported, and weren’t being fixed in a timely manner, causing people to miss trains or board without tickets.

To that, NCTD said: They are 16-year old machines that SANDAG put in place, and we’re working with San Diego Metropolitan Transit System to get a new system, but the existing ones aren’t as bad as you say.

A lot of the issue surrounds the use of credit cards at the machines.

NCTD says it has graphics and a video online showing how to get the machines to accept cards, and that it’s working on updating the software to reduce card-read errors. It agreed that the vendor who repairs the machines does not work all the hours the Sprinter operates, so there may be broken machines when the trains are running. It also said, though, that issues surrounding credit cards not being read are user errors, not technical ones.

Now, credit card machines are pretty ubiquitous these days, and I have worked in restaurants and have swiped thousands of credit cards. If an agency’s reader operates uniquely among its kind and requires a video showing people how to use it, maybe the problem is the reader, and not the user.

North County Faces Its Own Hepatitis A Fight

The recent Hepatitis A crisis isn’t constrained to San Diego city limits.

The Union-Tribune reports that 20 cases have been identified in North County, including 11 in Escondido and seven in Oceanside. The two cities, as well as Vista, each have homeless populations of around 530 people, and so far there have not been any fatal cases in this part of the county.

In Oceanside, county health officials are working with the police department’s homeless outreach team to get homeless people vaccinated against the disease. Vaccinations are also being offered to city employees who may come into contact with the homeless, and City Manager Michelle Lawrence told the U-T she expects about 500 people will get the vaccine.

Escondido had a similar response – sending county teams out with the police – and it is also trying to get handwashing stations installed.

Poway Unified Employees Have Years of Vacation Time Accrued

This week, Ashly McGlone reports that non-teaching staff at the Poway Unified School District have racked up several years’ worth of vacation time beyond what they’re allowed – a liability to the tune of $6 million.

McGlone reports that the largest single balance belongs to a maintenance supervisor, who has 238 days of vacation accrued. An administrative assistant has 185 days.

Former Superintendent John Collins was fired, in part, for cashing out unpaid vacation time, and an external audit found deficiencies in the district’s policies that prevent such abuses of vacation accrual from happening.

The district is reviewing its vacation-time policies, but one reform measure was already pulled from a school board agenda.

“We are going to have legal counsel look at current policies to see if there’s anything we can add to prevent us from getting into this situation again,” Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps said.

One Week Left, and Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood’s Return Still Unknown

Next week’s City Council meeting in Oceanside, on Oct. 4, will finally answer residents’ questions about whether they’ve got a mayor.

Recently re-elected Mayor Jim Wood has been out of office since May, when he suffered a stroke. The Council granted him one 60-day absence, but his continued leave triggered another 60-day period during which he could attend a public meeting, or have the office declared vacant.

That means he has until Oct. 7, though the last scheduled meeting before then is Oct 4.

“Because no meeting between Oct. 4 and Oct. 7, that’s really his last opportunity to be at a meeting before the Oct. 7 deadline,” City Clerk Zack Beck said.

His aide, Debbie Mikulay, said though it’s just one week out, Wood has not determined yet if he’s coming back.

“Mayor Wood continues his therapy and is making good strides. His family and doctors have not yet made a decision on his return,” Mikulay said in an email.

Beck said Oct. 7 will be the start of yet another 60-day period, during which the Council could appoint someone to serve as mayor for the rest of the term, or hold a special election in conjunction with the June 2018 primary.

Beck said the cost of an election was “difficult to assess” but looked like it could add between $25,000 to $75,000 to the city’s regular election expenses.

Also in the News

• Encinitas is moving ahead with by-district voting. (Del Mar Times)

• Open only a week, Vista’s new skate parks have been closed after an employee locking up for the night was mugged. (Union-Tribune)

• After a marathon meeting, the Del Mar Planning Commission wants more information before it can make a recommendation on a short-term rental policy. (The Coast News)

• The overall footprint of San Marcos’ Creek District could shrink under plans to reduce retail space. (KPBS)

• Amtrak will drop Encinitas and Carlsbad’s Poinsettia Station from its route due to low ridership. The stations will still be served by the Coaster. (Union-Tribune)

• After the Marine Corps opened all jobs to women, the first woman to graduate the Corps’ infantry officer course has been stationed at Camp Pendleton. (Union-Tribune)

Ruarri Serpa

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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