Elizabeth A. Bishop, 67, hasn't had a car for seven years, and there is no public transportation in the rural area of south-central Pennsylvania where she lives alone. She relies on blue-and-white vans from a shared-ride service to get to her doctor's office, hair appointments and the grocery store.
Being able to get around without relying on family or friends "makes you feel independent," said the McConnellsburg resident. "I don't know what I would do if we didn't have it."
Shared-ride services, which operate in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, provide door-to-door transportation for people 65 and older, similar to a taxi service. Rides usually must be scheduled at least a day in advance, and often several passengers are transported in the same trip.
The program is operated by local government agencies or nonprofits and funded by state lottery revenues, which cover 85 percent of the fare. Riders pay most of the rest of the cost; the agency often contributes a portion.
In areas where public transportation is available, lottery funds pay for people 65 and older to ride buses, subways and trolleys free of charge.
Nearly one in four Pennsylvanians will be 65 or older by 2030, according to census projections, and the state has one of the country's largest rural populations, leaving many people without access to bus or rail service.
Maintaining funding for the program is a priority, said Desiree Hung, AARP Pennsylvania associate state director for advocacy. "Without transportation options, you're condemning people to solitary confinement."
4.5 million subsidized rides
About $70 million in lottery funds subsidized nearly 4.5 million rides statewide last year. Ridership has declined slightly in recent years, in part because hours of operation in some counties have been reduced to shave costs, said Ray Landis, AARP Pennsylvania advocacy manager. Soaring gas prices and flat state funding also have strained the budgets of the agencies that run the services.
AARP Pennsylvania is part of the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition, which is pushing for a comprehensive solution to the state's multibillion-dollar transportation needs, including stable funding for shared rides.
"We want to make sure the issues that are important to seniors are included" in transportation plans, said AARP Pennsylvania spokesman Steve Gardner.