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Improving Transportation Services for Seniors

4 ways older adults who can't drive can catch a ride

Maryland: Ride Partners

Ride Partners (410-544-4800), part of the nonprofit Partners in Care Maryland, is an all-volunteer program that covers rural, urban and suburban areas.

How It Works: The program runs on a time bank system. Drivers get credit for "chauffeuring" and can dip into the bank if they need a ride. Passengers give back, if able, and get bank credit, too. They might answer the office phone, bake for an open house, knit clothing for the organization's boutique or volunteer there.

Dashboard: 2,300 members ages 50 to 105; 400 drivers and 9,000 rides covering more than 100,000 miles a year.

The Talk: "No matter how old people are, they have talents they can share," says Barbara Huston, president and CEO of Partners in Care Maryland. "The way drivers and riders participate makes everyone equal." Christine Jennings, 57, never drove and was dependent on cabs when she needed back surgery. Ride Partners began taking her to the doctor. "This program saves me a lot of money," says Jennings, "and makes me feel secure knowing someone is waiting for me."

South Dakota: River Cities Public Transit (RCPT)

River Cities Public Transit (605-945-2360), a private, nonprofit outfit in a mostly rural, 11-county area in South Dakota includes Pierre, the capital, and the Lower Brule and Cheyenne River Sioux Indian reservations. Rides run 24/7 around Pierre; four job shuttles transport commuters up to 80 miles away.

How It Works: On workdays, rural commuters meet and ride in a van or small bus to the city ($3 to $9 round trip). During the day, the vehicles take children to activities or, for $1.55 ($1 if 60-plus), transport older adults to senior centers, nutrition programs and other venues.

Dashboard: In 10 years, ridership has quadrupled.

The Talk: "Our service is life-saving and life-enhancing," says Ron Baumgart, RCPT's executive director. Riders can get a lift to dialysis, plan to work late or see a grandchild in an evening play. Five days a week, Judy Rada, 62, gets picked up at her apartment at 6 a.m. and driven to her job at Wal-Mart. Then RCPT brings her home at 4 p.m. "It's awesome — they help me right into my building," says Rada, who uses a wheelchair. "I wouldn't survive without this service."

Sally Abrahms writes about boomers and aging. She is based in Boston.

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Video Extra

GETTING AROUND: Long-term care expert Elinor Ginzler talks to family caregivers about the driving and transportation issues that impact older adults.

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