Margaret Walker, a life-long resident of Los Lunas, knows the day will come when she will have to give up her car keys but she doesn’t want her inability to drive to prevent her from having a fulfilling life.
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Walker was one of 30 people that attended a special forum on transportation sponsored by AARP New Mexico Nov. 2 at the Los Lunas Village of Los Lunas Transportation Center Auditorium. The forum consisted of a panel of local transportation providers discussing what options are available and what is still needed.
“Three years ago I tripped and feel and hurt my arm. I couldn’t drive for a year and that changed my whole life,” Walker said. “It woke me up.”
“Right now my health is good and I have good reflexes but I know my age. Anything can happen. I want to be prepared,” she said.
Many people who participated in a recent AARP New Mexico survey on transportation seemed to recognize that the day will come when they can no longer drive but they seemed to think that friends or family would be on hand to get them where they needed to go.
Walker already knows this won’t be the case as her children work and have lives of their own.
After attending the forum, Walker now realizes she’ll have options out in the community to get where she needs to go.
“I’m preparing for the future. I’m really glad I came,” she said.
AARP New Mexico State Director Stan Cooper said it is important that as people age they stay engaged in their community.
“AARP’s research shows that the more people stay connected with other people – whether that be through their church, or visiting with family or friends – the healthier they stay both mentally and physically,” Cooper said
“You don’t want someone becoming isolated and stuck in their home just because they can no longer drive. So what we’re doing here today is letting people know they have alternatives to driving,” he said.
Utilizing public transportation will be even more important as the older population is expected to increase. Cooper said U.S. Census figures predict that by 2030, New Mexico will be fourth in the nation with the largest number of persons 65 and older.
Jose Campos, director of Valencia County Older Americans Programs, called the increase a Tsunami of seniors.
Currently his program transports seniors to the area’s five senior centers, as well as shopping and the commodity center, as well as trips to Albuquerque for medical purposes. The rides are free but seniors are asked to donate $1 for local rides and $3 for trips to Albuquerque. Interested seniors can sign up at any of the area senior centers for the service.
Vangie Gabaldon, of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which manges transportation in Valencia County, said the agency recently acquired the city of Belen and the village of Los Lunas’ public transportation programs.
The program has a fleet of 22 buses and operates locally Monday through Fridays from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., serving all ages. They do not provide medical transportation to Albuquerque. Most rides cost $1 one way but for people age 62 and older, disabled individuals or children ages 10 to 17, the cost is 50 cents one way. Children under 9 ride free.
Riders should call in a day ahead to arrange for service at 505-352-3595.
Terry Doyle, director of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which also manages the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, discussed utilizing the train but was more interested in hearing what areas people thought were lacking.
One gentlemen said the train needed a more varied scheduled while another said people weren’t sure how to get to their destination once they got to the train stop and needed a lot more information on connections into the city.
People can get more information on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, which serves Valencia, Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties, and its connections at 1-866-795-RAIL (7245).
Many people don’t realize that another program that can help with medical non-emergency transportation is Medicaid.
Carolos Maruffo, director of Adaptive Non Emergency Transportation, said transportation services are free if an individual is Medicaid eligible. For more information on the program call 505-865-6000.
Many communities around New Mexico have similar programs. Residents interested in learning more about transportation options in the neighborhoods should contact their local government office for more information.
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