“Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile”
Posted: June 21, 2013
More than 20 percent of Americans age 65 and older don't drive, according to an analysis of the federal government's National Household Travel Survey by AARP's Public Policy Institute. This statistic on older Americans highlights one of the key factors affecting the ability of an older individual to age in their own home. That is a reliable transportation network. As people retire and live into their 80’s & 90’s, they sometimes lose the ability to drive themselves. In rural parts of this country, having access to a vehicle is key to do everyday tasks and chores. Many of parts of rural America have no fixed route public transportation network because people live far apart from other residences and commercial and employment centers. In those areas, there is a big reliance on the private automobile.
Both my parents are in their 80’s and luckily for my brother and sister they are still able to drive even if my dad avoids driving too much at night. Where they live also has public transportation so they could always use that for shopping and medical appointments. In addition, they have younger friends that take them to social events especially at night.
However, many of us know relatives or friends that aren’t able to drive due to health issues. They are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or close friends we grew up with.
In those areas that don’t have fixed route public transit such as rural counties, older Americans rely on county or multi-county transportation services. These services allow seniors access to medical, financial and social appointments. These would include doctor’s appointments, trips to local senior centers, grocery shopping and getting to a bank. These services are usually provided by County Aging offices or separate county transportation departments. Several counties in rural Pennsylvania provide these services including Pike County. The funding for these services is supplemented through the Pennsylvania lottery. So get ahead and buy those lottery tickets on a weekly basis to support our older Pennsylvania’s.
I had a recent conversation with our Pike County Transportation Department Director. She is new to the position (six months) and provided her perspective on transportation services in a rural county. Pike County provides shared services for seniors to get to doctor appointments, grocery shopping or visiting a senior center. In addition, Pike County provides transportation for medical assistance patients to doctors and pharmacies. One of the issues confronting seniors in Pike County is distance needed sometimes to travel to medical doctors, shopping and financial services. The Pike County transportation director commented that she has had to rein the size of the service territory in order to maintain the program. Currently, Pike County veterans travel to Wilkes-Barre for these services.
Another issue with this type of service is having seniors understand that they might to wait at a doctor’s office once they are finished with their visit because other individuals have their appointment at that same location. That is the case when you are transporting several seniors.
The Independent Transportation Network (ITN) has volunteers which free or low-cost rides to older adults while at the same time earning credits for free rides that they can use in the future or donate to family or friends. The program has an intergenerational component since most volunteers are younger drivers. ITN has since grown into ITN America, the first and only national nonprofit transportation system for older adults in America. In 2009, the ITN America national network provided nearly 26,000 rides. Recently, ITN opened an affiliate in the Lehigh Valley.
What does this mean for us as we get older? It may mean that living in the country will have drawbacks that won’t be able to provide us the opportunity to take advantage of the services we would need. It might mean that we would move to a more urban community where the things we need are within walking distance like shopping, banking, dry cleaners, library and other places. These are considerations many of us might be dealing with in the future with loved ones.