The Car

Older Adult Alternative Transportation Fallacy

Cindy Davis
Written by Cindy Davis

Unfortunately there are not a lot of good transportation alternatives for older adults when they decide to stop driving.

It’s a common misperception that when it’s time stop driving there are plenty of alternative sources of transportation. With more than 75% of older adults living in rural and suburban locations, access to those options generally requires moving to a more urban location or a retirement facility that offers transportation services.  Even then there are limitations. 

Older adult alternative transportation survey results.

In a telephone survey of 2,422 people 50 and older, ride-sharing was the second most common mode of transportation (after driving); however, nearly a quarter of the survey participants cited feelings of dependency and concerns about imposing as a barrier to use. Public transportation was the usual mode of transportation for fewer than 5% of survey participants, with many citing unavailable destinations, problems with accessibility, and fear of crime as barriers to use. Fewer than 5% used taxis as their usual mode of transportation because of the high cost.40 Until such barriers are addressed, these forms of transportation will remain suboptimal for many older adults.

Senior Transportation Options

Let’s explore some of the options.

Public Transportation

Generally, public transport services (Buses, Trains, and Subway) are well established and fairly reliable.  But these systems were generally designed to prioritize getting employees in close proximity to places of work.  So the routes may not support the common outing requirements of older adults as described in “Why Keep Older Adults Safely Driving?”  In many cases, public transportation riders tend to travel the rest of the way from a public transportation stop to their destination via foot; and the same for the return home.  To use most public transport, older adults need to have the mobility to climb stairs and walk to their destination.  Also because of seniors limited experience taking public transportation, the shift to public transportation may take training. 

Walking

Great exercise. But planning a trip needs to account for any lack of connected sidewalks and unsafe intersection crossings; sidewalk obstructions such as crowds, cyclists, and parked cars; and poor sidewalk  maintenance including broken or uneven pavement, leaves, ice, snow, weeds, roots, and other potential tripping hazards.  At certain times of year weather may prevent walking, so one of the other options needs to be accessed.

Paratransit or Supplemental Transportation Programs

Operated by a patchwork of government and non-profit organizations these specialized on-demand services may not meet your needs or you may not qualify for the program.  For example, many of the programs were originally designed to support disabled riders that reside within a quarter mile of existing bus routes and served as a means to connect them to existing transportation.  Some new programs provide fixed or circular routes or on-demand services to a limited number of places at set times of day.  It is not unusual for these programs to be affiliated with a religious, medical, or community facility; and therefore limit users to its members and patients.  Lastly, a senior’s medical conditions may not meet the disability criteria to access the service.  So if you qualify for these services, these are great options.

The independent living community my dad lived in provided shuttle transportation service to two nearby medical centers, the grocery store and pharmacy.  Once a month there were outings to baseball games and the movies.  But the service was not always convenient for his schedule or would take him to places outside their route.  For example, no one worked on Sundays, so he couldn’t get to church.  That’s where we filled in, either taking him ourselves or paying a friend to shuttle him.  As his mobility declined, we could no longer just drop him off and pick him up.  Someone had to go with him to the store and help bring in the groceries.  Over time he developed a great relationship with the friend and we paid her to take him to the doctors and all his shopping trips.  Bottom line, the driver cessation period may last for a long period, so you don’t have to make drastic changes at once.  Monitor the situation and adapt.

Cindy Davis

Dial a Ride

Taxi, Ride Sharing, Shuttle Buses and Vans.  These on-demand services are well suited for seniors without vision, cognitive, and physical limitations.  If any of these are a factor, the older adult may need someone to provide door-to-door, door-through-door, and/or personal escort during the trip.  This additional support may not always be an option and if available the personal support comes at a cost.  In the case of ride sharing services, the older adult will need a smart phone, the app, and knowledge on how to use the service; which may be a challenge for less tech savvy seniors.  Again these options are best for those with good mobility.  If you need help getting from your door to the vehicle or back, then be ready to pay a little more to get that extra assistance.

Carpooling and Rides from Friends and Family

These are a great option if everyone involved can get to the desired location at the times when they want or need to travel.  In some instances, seniors can hitch a ride with someone that is already going to the same place.  Friends and family may use their own car for transport and get reimbursed for expenses or they may act as a chauffeur using the senior’s vehicle and get paid an agreed upon stipend for their time.  These informal arrangements may also achieve the added benefit of a door through door traveling companion.

The Five A’s of Senior-Friendly Transportation

When considering how to develop a network of trip options that may work for you and your loved one, The Five “A’s” of Senior-Friendly Transportation provides good criteria to compare services and figure out how to mix and match options to meet your needs.  Here’s a summary of the 5 A’s developed by The Beverly Foundation.

Senior-Friendly Transportation Criteria
  1. Availability: Transportation exists and is available when needed (e.g., evenings, weekdays, weekends).
  2. Accessibility: Transportation can be reached and used (e.g., bus stairs are negotiable, seats are high enough, vehicle comes to the door, transit stops are reachable).
  3. Acceptability: Deals with standards, including cleanliness and safety (e.g., the transporting vehicle is clean, transit stops are in safe areas, drivers are courteous and helpful).
  4. Affordability: Deals with costs (e.g., fees are affordable, vouchers or coupons are available to defray out-of-pocket expenses); and
  5. Adaptability: Transportation can be modified or adjusted to meet special needs (e.g., the vehicle can accommodate a wheelchair, trip chaining is possible, escorts can be provided).

Source: Supplemental Transportation Programs for Seniors, The Beverly Foundation

Senior Driving Resources to Plan Ahead

About the author

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Serial entrepreneur and former full-time caregiver for eight years to her father with multiple chronic conditions. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Medicine and Asian Studies; and a Master of Business Administration degree recipient in marketing and finance from UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. Currently lives in Dallas, Texas with her teenage son and advises businesses on strategic planning, marketing, finance, and operations as owner of Next Level Consulting, Inc.

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