From Why Grandma Needs to Learn How to Ride the Bus

08-Mar-2013 When Complete Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) were thriving during the last few decades, one of their most popular selling points was ease of transition.

As the argument went, moving to a new community can be jarring for elderly people so folks should move to a CCRC in their 50s, allowing time to adjust to the facilities and make on-site friends before they became less mobile and more reliant on in-situ support.

I believe that a similar rationale applies to transportation.

Boomer generation members – who have largely driven themselves everywhere all their lives, will continue to work and play aggressively well into retirement. While we may assume that leaving the workforce signals a reduced need for travel, their travel needs might actually increase. And this cohort will continue to demand the mobility that enables them to go where they want, when they want.

The AARP and Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) provide valuable safe-driver training that enables people to delay driving retirement. Increasingly, some also provide travel training to help acquaint new riders with transit use. An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey revealed that while older-driver safety programs exist in 41.6 percent of AAA coverage areas, programs that help people transition from driving to alternative transportation services were available in only 3.3 percent of AAAs.

Still, these important resources target the elderly only at the point when they have few alternatives, and I believe they should be preparing themselves far earlier to ease the transition. Many baby boomers – particularly the wealthier ones – have never used public transportation and find it foreign or even scary. Riders need to learn the schedules of different transportation modes and how they fit together and to feel comfortable relying on this service.

My friend Leon told me that every time he arrived by Metro (subway) to his transfer station, his bus had just pulled away and he needed to wait 10-15 minutes for the next one. An experience like this for an elderly person who is not yet comfortable traveling by mass transit, could very quickly sour her on the whole experiment.

Earlier experimentation with available transit will also lead to users identifying problems and advocating for better service provision before they need it (incidentally benefitting others who need it sooner), particularly in suburban and moreso in rural areas that are poorly served. In my suburban neighborhood, for example, a committee is advocating with our transit authority to reinstate a Ride-On bus service from points within the neighborhood to the Metro system.

Nearly half of those surveyed in 2008 by the U.S. Administration on Aging described themselves as “mobility impaired,” meaning they have no car, do not drive, or do not live within ¾ mile of a fixed route stop.  These are the same Americans who need to lift up their voices now to ensure that they stay mobile as they gray.

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