About 600,000 older adults stop driving each year, according to USAging, the national association for Area Agencies on Aging. That can make it harder for aging or ill loved ones to make doctor's appointments, shop for necessities, visit family or attend social events. That, in turn, increases their isolation, which negatively affects health and well-being.
Transportation is often a major responsibility for caregivers. More than 40 percent of older and disabled adults rely on family, friends and neighbors for rides, and around three-quarters of caregivers list providing or arranging transport as one of their primary duties, according to a 2021 survey by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), a program administered by USAging and Easterseals that promotes accessible transit.
But providing transportation is not always easy or convenient. “Some family caregivers just can't leave their job every time somebody needs a ride to the doctor, much less even to the grocery store,” says Virginia Dize, a USAging program director and codirector of the NADTC.
Finding alternatives for times you can't get your loved one where they need to go likely will require some research. But a variety of options are available that can lessen the burden on caregivers and help older and disabled people keep appointments and stay socially connected.
When you can't provide a ride
The types of transit available differ widely from location to location, as do opportunities for specialized or discount service.
Metropolitan areas tend to be transportation-rich, with public bus, rail or trolley lines and various commercial options. In small towns and rural regions, you might have to rely on prebooked “demand response” services or volunteer organizations.
In a joint publication on transportation options, NADTC and Eldercare Locator, a federal directory of local services for older adults, list several programs and services geared in varying degrees to helping older and disabled people get around. Remember that not all of these options are available everywhere, but your area is likely to feature at least some.
Primarily bus and rail services, operated and financed by federal, state and local governments, with fixed routes and set schedules, these systems usually offer discounted fares for older adults and people with disabilities. Vouchers may be available as well.
Some transit agencies and local aging or disability organizations provide free training to help riders learn to travel safely. Buses, railcars and stations usually will have accessibility features, but public transit might not be a suitable alternative for people who will have difficulty navigating stairs, waiting outside or walking to and from stops.
Public transit agencies are required by law to provide “complementary paratransit service” for people who are unable to use regular lines. Paratransit operates during the same hours as normal service and covers comparable routes.