Access to affordable and reliable transportation for the elderly is a concern for many communities, especially in rural areas where service is practically nonexistent.
On average, women live an extra 10 years between the time they stop driving and pass away; for men it's 6 years, according to Katherine Freund, President & Executive Director of ITNAmerica, a consulting firm based in Portland, ME. While they want to remain active, many retirees find themselves homebound for lack of transportation. Only 1.2 percent of seniors use public transportation on a daily basis, while the vast majority rely on friends and family for rides.
At the last White House Conference on Aging (2005), state delegates ranked mobility and access to transportation third overall (out of 50 resolutions) on the list of issues they would like to see the federal government tackle as the country's population ages.
"It was a total shock to a lot of us attending the conference that mobility and transportation ranked higher than Social Security and Medicaid," said Freund, "but those programs exist, whereas little has been done at the federal level to address transportation."
ITNAmerica has helped form senior transportation networks in 25 cities across the country, including Charleston, SC; Lexington, KY; Kansas City, MO; Racine, WI; Orlando and Sarasota, FL; Las Vegas, NV; and San Diego, CA.
In each community, a non-profit organization is established to oversee and administer a volunteer transportation service. No public funds are used. Funding comes from donations and member dues that riders pay to belong to the transportation service.
In Charleston, for example, the transportation network averages 18-22 rides daily. The service uses 35 volunteer (mostly senior) drivers, plus a few paid drivers. To access the service, you pay an annual membership fee of $35. Each ride costs $3, plus $1 per mile—about $8 on average. No money is exchanged with the driver. Instead, you pay money into a personal ITN account that is deducted after each ride.
Before the Charleston network was formed, many seniors found themselves homebound much of the time because they were afraid to use taxis, or it was too difficult to use the public transportation system, according to Paul Franklin, a business owner in Charleston who helped get the transportation network started.
"Our drivers provide a more personalized, friendly service," added Franklin. "They walk up to the person's front door, help them in and out of the car, and carry packages, which our members appreciate."
To learn more about the transportation programs in the cities listed above, visit www.itnamerica.org.
National Center on Senior Transportation. Visit www.seniortransportation.net or call 866-528-NCST or 202-347-7385 (TDD).
ElderCare Locator. Visit www.eldercare.gov or 800-677-1116