IMPLEMENTATION ALTERNATIVES FOR MEETING TRANSIT NEEDS IN THE RURAL SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY
The eight-county San Joaquin Valley consists of 27,000 square miles, 4 million residents, and 31,000 miles of roadways. While several major urban metropolitan areas exist, a significant portion of the Valley’s four million residents live in rural and “fringe” type settings including low income households employed in the agricultural sector who live in the outer Valley floor, and foothill and mountain residing populations.
Access to education and health represents a significant barrier to fostering healthy communities and social equity. More than 20 percent of the Valley’s residents live below the federal poverty level. One out of five residents is foreign born and 62 percent are ethnic minorities. Hispanics constitute 55 percent of the Valley’s residents. Over 29 percent of the Valley adults lack a high school diploma, compared the the 19.4 percent for California and 14.7 percent for the nation. Reduced life expectancy, premature deaths and incidences of asthma and other health ailments and diseases are disproportionately concentrated in low-income, minority and rural communities found throughout the eight-county region. According to CalEnviroScreen 2.0, 33 percent of the population that experiences the worst environmental quality (top 5 percent) in the state are located in the San Joaquin Valley. This is despite the Valley’s relatively low share of California’s total population.
Meeting the transit needs of the rural and fringe residents poses several issues for our counties who are attempting to implement Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and green house gas emissions while addressing mobility, access and efficiency deficiencies in our transportation system. Traditional rural transit options have resulted in an economically unsustainable system with costly per trip travel, unfit vehicle types, and in many instances a net increase versus decrease in vehicle miles traveled. As a result, many critical transportation needs of our residents are foregone including health care visits, and access to educational and employment opportunities. Additionally, resident travel safety becomes an issue as under-maintained personal vehicles are seemingly the dominate mode of transportation for rural and fringe low-income residents.