Not to brag, but I take the bus to work.
My commute in Pittsburgh is simple: I leave at 7:30 a.m., walk two blocks, wait a couple of minutes, then hop on and ride down the hill. I pull the stop-request cord, thank the driver and stroll around the corner to my office. I'm there by 7:45.
As far as I'm concerned, I've hit the jackpot. No rush-hour headaches, plus I save on gas and parking, and have the luxury to people-watch or zone out for a while. It's easier on the environment, too.
But public transit is not this simple for everyone, especially for older generations who may really need alternatives to driving.
I remember waiting (and waiting) with my friend Arthur for New York City's paratransit service, Access-A-Ride, to pick us up and bring us home. If we requested a 1 p.m. pickup, the van inevitably arrived at 1:30 or much later, and the bumpy route often included long stops for other passengers.
In other parts of the country, such as my grandparents' small town of Ebensburg, Pa., there simply are no public transportation options. I remember how expensive it was for Pop Pop to order a privately operated Med-Van service when my aunt and uncle weren't available to drive him. Some of the cost was covered by Medicare, but still. Many times it was more cost-effective and less of a hassle to stay home.
Everyone should have the freedom to get around, for as long as they're around. Safe, streamlined and affordable public transit can make that happen. The World Health Organization agrees, including transportation as one of eight domains measuring livability in its Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. (AARP leads our age-friendly efforts here in the United States.)
Neighborhoods with safe, convenient transportation score high marks on the Livability Index, an online tool that allows you to compare your ZIP code's livability — based on transit, housing, health, civic engagement and more — to national averages and the livability of other communities across the country. Given my glorious, car-free commute, I'm not surprised that my ZIP code scores an 85 (out of 100) on transportation. By clicking deeper into my area's profile, I see that 163 buses and trains are circulating per hour. The national average? Zero.
As our population gets older, it's time that we prepare our infrastructure to support it. That's what the age-friendly movement is all about: redesigning our cities and towns so that they include and respect people of all ages.
It's a matter of social justice, really. It's not fair that Arthur had to wait every time he left his apartment. It's not fair that my grandfather missed out on trips into his hometown of 90 years because it was expensive and difficult. People should have access to life and community for all the years of their lives.
Laura Hahn is a gerontologist committed to intergenerational solidarity and age-friendly communities.
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