Because I have more time on my hands than money, I read a lot, attend many meetings and interact with passels of people. Sometimes I listen to them.
As a result, of late I've found myself pondering public transit services and wondering whether I am a country mouse or a city mouse. I decided to do a deep dive on both. Please tag along, kind readers, if your wandering eyes have led you astray to these woebegone words.
Everyone recalls the Aesop's Fable of the sophisticated city mouse who visited his country cousin and then the bumpkin, in turn, popped in on his bon vivant brethren. Each rodent was enamored with its own less-than-perfect environs.
In the end, the country mouse scuttled back to his rural reverie because he favored security over life's finer offerings.
I love my community's sleepy charms, its agriculture, broad vistas, quaint village, dappled sunscapes and craggy hillsides that grace the 110.5-square-mile area that takes in Fallbrook, Rainbow, Bonsall and DeLuz.
But my heart seems to quicken when I dip into the Temecula Valley, an equally large swath that includes an Old Town, scores of wineries, sports parks, big box stores, a regional mall, hospitals, a lake, a dam, a meadow-splashed plateau, hot springs, an Indian reservation, a casino and much, much more.
It was a couple of meetings last year that caused my mental wheels to spin. The first was in February, when the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation presented a report that it had prepared for the Fallbrook Senior Center. The report touched on senior needs and demographics today and well into the future. It held a mirror to my life and a key service – public transit.
SANDAG, a regional planning group, estimates that 24% of the Fallbrook area's population is comprised of adults age 65 or older. Between 2020 and 2050, the population of Fallbrook-area adults aged 75-79 will increase by more than 41%, ages 80-84 by 98% and 85 and older by nearly 150%.
I am, according to the SANDAG data, one of the approximately 2,650 elder Fallbrook-area residents (17%) who live alone.
Furthermore, the hand disease I suffer from places me in another category, as about 20% of the 65-74 year-old demographic lives with at least one disability. Almost half of the individuals age 75 or older are impacted.
Those demographics, according to the report, highlight the need for more services and support systems for Fallbrook seniors and those on the cusp of reaching those age groups.
Key challenges for the area, the report stated, are rural isolation and the scarcity of public transportation services. "Limited public transportation, limited volunteer driver programs, the distance between homes and the distance of services in higher density areas, limited taxis and rider share services and the distance of doctors' offices and hospitals are all obvious challenges facing Fallbrook's older adults."
Those limited options – coupled with the exodus of medical specialists that occurred after Fallbrook's hospital closed in 2015 – was echoed at an October community feedback session held by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. The Fallbrook gathering was one of seven such sessions held by the agency in a process to update its "Aging Roadmap."
Transportation emerged as the top concern of the focus group that coalesced around my seating row. My group was an interesting mélange of English and Spanish speakers. We were asked, among other questions, to envision the needs we will have a decade or so from now.
That question made me wonder where I will live when I am in my 80s and whether I will still drive. Will I still be able to afford to live in my house? Will I still be able to pay for car insurance, maintenance and fuel? Will I still be able to drive commuter-crazed streets and freeways without endangering myself or others?
Can I remain a country mouse?
To find out, I took a ride on Route 306, which is part of the North County Transit District's ganglia of ride options. The agency has a $133.4 million annual budget and it serves a 1,020-square-mile region with its buses, commuter rail and light rail services.
NCTD has a route that connects Pala to Escondido, but it does not serve Rainbow or DeLuz. It offers connections to Oceanside, Vista and San Diego, where an array of commuter and Amtrak trains stop and go.
Route 306 – one of NCTD's 34 bus lines – offers a steady flow of round trips between the Vista Transit Center and several key Fallbrook locations. It is a 2-mile walk from my house to and from the closest bus stop. The one-way senior fare is $1.25, and I had a pleasant ride to our friendly village and the sweet destination of my favorite panaderia.
But it would be another 2-mile round-trip walk to and from the Fallbrook Senior Center from the closest stop on the Route 306 line. The Fallbrook Regional Health District's Wellness Center – which offers an array of services – is well beyond walking distance.
Conversely, the services offered by the Riverside Transit Agency mirror those of the NCTD. Blessed with similar budgets, RTA has bus routes that crisscross Temecula in every direction and also link Murrieta, Wildomar, Menifee, Lake Elsinore, Perris and Corona.
Perris and Corona are hubs for Metrolink, a commuter rail system that blankets Southern California.
Hmmmmm. North or south? City mouse or country mouse?