Alcohol and electronic cigarettes banned on Coaster

Alcohol and electronic cigarettes banned on Coaster
As of Feb. 1, 2015, Coaster riders will no longer be allowed to drink alcohol on the train or use electronic cigarettes. Photo by Ellen Wright

REGION— The days of drinking alcohol and smoking electronic cigarettes on the Coaster trains are numbered.

The North County Transit District Board voted unanimously to ban alcohol and electronic cigarettes on all of the Coaster trains by Feb. 1, 2015 at their Dec. 18 meeting.

The board, which is made up of local elected officials, said the goal of the Coaster is to provide transportation and alcohol consumption has proved to be too much of a nuisance.

“We are in the transportation business. We are not in the entertainment business,” County Supervisor of San Diego Bill Horn said.

Over the 20 years he’s been on the board, he said this is the fourth or fifth time alcohol has come up.

“We have tried to make an allowance, we’ve tried to enforce but we just finally decided it’s time for us to shut this down,” Horn said.

Underage drinking and loud and rowdy behavior were cited as the major problems with drinking.

“It’s a small percentage of people that are actually breaking the rules that are affecting everybody,” Deputy Mayor of Vista John Aguilera said.

He said the majority of the problems happen during events, like the Padres games. The board looked into the possibility of banning alcohol during those events, but according to Aguilera, that proved to be too “labor intensive and difficult to police.”

“The unfortunate thing is, it’s the Padres games that have done it to us and those are probably the people that need the beers for drowning their sorrows for the losses,” Aguilera joked.

Of the about dozen public speakers, two were against the ban.

More than 320 people wrote the board, according to NCTD Public Information Officer Katie Whichard and about 93 percent said they were against the ban of alcohol.

Trudy Clark told the board in the seven years she had been riding the Coaster, she had never seen minors given alcohol or any rowdiness.

Eric Collins, Director of the Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County, told the board he was in favor of the ban because, he believes, it will cut down on underage drinking and driving.

“NCTD has a significant opportunity to conserve valuable law enforcement resources, save valuable taxpayer dollars and most importantly save lives by reducing the risk of drunk driving collisions throughout San Diego County,” Collins said.

The board also voted to treat electronic cigarettes like tobacco and banned them in all NCTD facilities.

Critics of electronic smoking devices said that since the vapors emitted are odorless, there is no way of telling what someone is smoking.

They also cited the side effects of second hand vapor smoke, which is still unknown.

Some of the council members said they had a difficult time making the decision to ban alcohol, but ultimately, everyone except for Solana Beach Councilman Mike Nichols who was absent, voted to ban it.

“I think being a good leader means that we need to make hard decisions and unfortunately it’s not always going to be popular but we have to do what’s best for the public safety of all our citizens,” Vice Mayor of San Marcos Rebecca Jones said.

Spill proof containers, like travel mugs and coffee cups, are still allowed on the Coaster, as well as “light meals or snacks” which aren’t disruptive to other passengers.

After Feb. 1, people with open alcoholic drinks on the train or in any station can face a fine of $75 for the first offense, and $250 for the second.

Those caught using electronic cigarettes after the ban can face a fine of $250 and 48 hours of mandated community service.

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