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New Ways for an Aging Population to Get Around

Innovative transportation ideas take root in cities and towns

Cities, suburbs and rural towns are going full speed ahead to create ways for aging residents to get from place to place.

The growing age 65-plus demographic, now including boomers known for their desire for independence, has prompted communities and nonprofits to find new methods of transporting older residents.

See also: Best car features for caregivers.

Here's how some are getting onboard.

The city of St. Augustine, Fla.

What it is

The public bus system in St. John's County has a "mobility manager" who helps improve citizen transit, whether by car, van, bicycle or foot; coordinates service among transit providers; and educates users about their options. Residents can phone a call center for directions or request a volunteer to show them the ropes.

How it works

With 26 percent of residents age 60-plus, the city has:

  • Rock-bottom bus fares ($1 a ride, 50 cents for age 60-plus, or $12.50 a month), with 18 trips daily to the local hospital alone.
  • A network of paid employees and volunteer drivers; bus stops galore; drivers who are willing to be flagged down along a route.
  • Local buses that run on the highway to Jacksonville, the closest big city.
  • Vans equipped for wheelchairs that can be hired for door-to-door service or, if you supply the driver, rented on weekends.

How is it working?

Not having a car in New York City wasn't a problem for Barbara Allen, but when she moved to St. Augustine in 2005, transportation became an issue. She didn't have to worry. She lives five minutes from the bus and takes it to the Center on Aging three times a week, the grocery store, the school where she helps with voter registration, or to the mall in Jacksonville some 40 miles away.

"I don't have to rely on anyone else, and I feel like I still count because someone thought enough of me to provide the kind of transportation service that lets me maintain my independence," says Allen.

The Delmarva Peninsula covering rural counties in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia

What it is

The Delmarva Community Service (DCS), a nonprofit, multi-service agency that promotes independence for the developmentally disabled and older people, has started a new effort to help people in the Delmarva Peninsula get around.

How it works

Delmarva's "travel trainers" take up to three trips with inexperienced riders, and give them the number to call to learn about transportation alternatives and eligibility.

The agency believes that transportation shouldn't just be for medical appointments or work, but to enhance the quality of life. "What they do after work and on weekends deserves transportation, too," says DCS President Santo Grande. That might mean trips to church, a concert, a volunteer job or the beauty salon. Delmarva has also hired a full-time Hispanic outreach worker for the immigrants hired on the many farms in the area.

How is it working?

The program is attracting new riders, according to the coordinators. One strategy they use: Invite women's groups or bridge clubs to ride the bus to the next county for lunch or an event and show them the ease of using the bus in the future.

Next: Riders schedule their own rides with this program. >>

The TRIP program (Transportation Reimbursement and Information Project)

What it is

The Riverside County program in Southern California is geared to those who don't have public services in their area or are too ill or frail to use them.

How it works

Riders can apply over the phone. Unlike many programs, TRIP requires that passengers find their own drivers. This is deliberate, says TRIP founder Richard Smith. Making riders reach out to others "empowers them to take responsibility and to learn to be self-reliant. This isn't so much a transportation program as it is about social networking that combats isolation." A pamphlet helps explain how to find, then ask, a potential driver.

Riders schedule their own rides, which keeps costs down. The 1,000-plus volunteer drivers get reimbursed for gas mileage.

How is it working?

Fran Broda, 71, used to take the bus, which stopped in her Mira Loma, Calif., mobile home park. But with severe leg and back problems and a cane, she struggled to get to the bus stop. Getting to the pharmacy required changing buses twice. Carrying bundles from the grocery stores was a nightmare.

Then, in an unrelated meeting, she met a man named Jack, who offered to drive her. "The program has changed my life," says Broda. "I used to just sit in the house by myself. I have nobody. Now I call Jack and he's right at my door!"

The TRIP model has been replicated in other areas across the country.

Other transportation options that aid older citizens:

  • Denver's free trolleys that run through a pedestrian mall.
  • Washington, D.C., has "circulator" buses that loop through neighborhoods and the National Mall and connect to subway and bus routes.
  • Flex-route public buses that can pick up and drop off along a route or close to an older person's home.
  • Ride Connection in Portland, Ore., teaches people how to use public transportation and provides free door-to-door service for older people and those with disabilities.
  • Discounted taxi rides based on age and disability.
  • Shared rides for those with disabilities who can't use regular public transit.

Also of interest: Do you or your loved ones need better transportation? >>

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

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