The ability to get to the places where we need and want to go is essential to a healthy and happy life. Whether we’re trying to get to work, a medical facility or a recreational event, we all depend on some form of transportation to get us there. But, as The Detroit Free Press recently reported in a series of articles, elderly individuals often face the difficult question of how to access these places once they are no longer able to drive themselves.
In one of the articles, Ray Kolpacki, an 80-year-old resident of Westland, told reporter Robin Erb that if he was no longer able to drive, he’d “go sit down right there in that chair and die,” a sentiment shared by many individuals in a similar situation.
While the articles provide a realistic insight into a very challenging situation, they miss an important alternative to driving. Transit is a viable option for mobility to seniors who are unable to drive, and many seniors in Michigan are already utilizing public transit; the 2010 Michigan Ridership Report by the Michigan Department of Transportation found that over 4.3 million elderly passengers used transit that year.
The inability to drive can be difficult for individuals who have been dependent on automobiles for years and it is a challenge that many of us will eventually face. In Michigan, about one in six working-age residents will hit 65 in the next six years, and that rate will continue to increase until 2020. These stats are mirrored at the national level as baby-boomers come of age. Mobility for those individuals will continue to present a challenge to communities around the country, especially in areas without a strong public transit system. According to Transportation for America, by 2015 more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will have poor or nonexistent access to public transit.
A few more facts about elderly mobility & public transit:
In Michigan, there are several organizations and institutions working to improve transportation options for seniors, making the transition from driving to other modes of transportation easier.
myride2 is a nonprofit that works with seniors and adults with disabilities in Oakland, Macomb, and western Wayne counties to facilitate transportation. Residents in this area can call myride2 with their start and end destination and an agent will provide detailed information about several transportation options available for their trip, including both public transit providers like the SMART bus and private taxis or paratransit services in the area. myride2 agents take extra steps to help riders who need special help, like for applications for an ADA card or locating services for riders who require special medical considerations. Organizations like myride2 help diminish barriers associated with understanding bus schedules, fares and routes, which can prevent new riders from trying transit.
Several public transit providers also offer services that cater to elderly riders and simplify the transportation process. In the Lansing area, the Capital Area Transit Authority (CATA) offers what they call a “curb to curb” service. This service requires a reservation and a fare at the same rate as fixed bus service, which ranges from $1.00 to $2.25 per ride. These services offer riders a trip directly to and from their destination, and provide access to rural areas at a very low cost. The Ride in Washtenaw County and The Rapid in the Grand Rapids area both offer similar services to meet the needs of senior riders. Alongside the important work of nonprofit organizations like myride2, reliable public transit service can provide seniors with mobility and access they need to get to appointments, go shopping and visit family and friends.
The inability to drive does not have to prevent our aging population from living rich, satisfying lives. A comprehensive transportation system which prioritizes public transit and walkability as much as automobiles can allow non-drivers of all ages to live a full, rewarding, independent, and safe lifestyle. Organizations such as myride2 and local public transit agencies serve to connect people with transit opportunities, but they can only work with the options and funding available to them.
Mobility and accessibility for seniors is yet another reason Michigan needs a strong, well-funded, comprehensive transportation system.
Written by Liz Treutel – Trans4M Fellow