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Going Places?

Senior Walking

The Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation


Imagine living in a place where there is no public transit system.  No bus, no taxi, no train, no subway. No public passenger transport at all. Unimaginable? Not at all.  The town where I live in Texas has none of the above.  There is a small airport, and a freight train goes through town, and long ago in the 40’s, there used to be a street car to Dallas, but not anymore. You could get a taxi to come get you from Dallas, but that would be expensive. So, if you are elderly, you cannot drive, or do not own a car, how do you get around?  In this town of 30,000 people, there is no public transportation. You will have to depend on friends and family to drive you in their cars.   And you are not alone. Public transportation in suburban and rural areas, even in cities, is inadequate at best for many elderly and disabled people.

A report by Transportation for America  titled, “Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options”,  states that, by 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” with few transportation  options for those who do not drive. The report ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation now and in the future, and presents other information  on aging and transportation.

In the report, an  analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology  looks at  metropolitan areas within each of five size categories. It shows that in just four years, 90 percent of seniors in metro Atlanta will live in neighborhoods with poor access to options other than driving.  Other cities  such as San Bernardino,  Houston, Detroit and Dallas will have similar outcomes.  Smaller cities such as  Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham will also be affected, according to this analysis.

The term “aging in place” means that many people over 55 years of age would prefer to stay in their present residence in their old age, rather than move to an assisted living center, retirement center or other community.  Between  2001  and  2009,  the  number  of  older Americans  who  do  not  drive  increased  by  1.1 million according to an AARP Public Policy report.   If you choose to age in place in a community where there are limited public transportation options, then you are stuck, literally, stuck in place.

What’s the impact of this statistic in a place without local transportation?  This means that people will skip doctor’s appointments, go without groceries, give up social and recreational visits, and become more and more socially isolated in their residence. It means that caregivers will also face a considerable burden in their tasks also, unless they drive.

What’s the solution?

1. Agency on Aging

According to the U.S. Government Accountability  Office,  62  federal  programs  fund  transportation  services  primarily  for  older  adults,  people  with disabilities  and  low-income  individuals.  Ask at your local area Agency on Aging for information about a program which operates in your area and for which you are eligible.  There might be help available.

2. City Officials, State Transportation Dept. and your Congressmen

Bring attention to the need for accessible public transportation to your city officials, state transportation department and your Congressmen. Write and call about the problem and see what governmental efforts are being directed to the need.  “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

3. Hospitals, Local Churches and Non-profit agencies

See if your local hospital or clinic would coordinate with a bus or van company to help get patients to appointments by creating a regular route and schedule for fare-paying patients. I know that some of the major hospitals in Dallas offer patient transportation.  Perhaps, local churches or non-profit agencies which have a van or bus would get involved in bringing   clients in for services by offering rides on certain days.   There is usually limited transportation to shopping and recreation opportunities at most public recreation or senior centers.

4. Taxi companies and Bus lines

Let local transportation companies, like taxi companies or bus lines, know that there is a need and a market for their services in your neighborhood.  Get together with other seniors and others who need transportation and form a coalition to get entrepreneurial businessmen to realize that there is a market wherever there is a population which needs transportation.

5. Friends, Neighbors and Volunteers

Organize drivers in your own circle of influence who can be relied upon to be safe and willing drivers on a regular basis. This would mean contacting friends from church, from work, from the neighborhood who are willing to volunteer or receive payment for driving.

There is no easy answer for every person in every community, but access to transportation is an important consideration for caregivers and care-receivers in making life livable wherever one lives.

See the full report here.

Any thoughts? Please let us know.