Today’s boomers recall what it was like the first time they could legally drive on their own. Back then, a brand-new driver’s license, a few dollars for gasoline, and the keys to the family Fairlane meant hours of mobility and freedom. There was nothing quite like it. But today, the oldest boomers are hitting 75, and soon (if not already) they’ll be forced by age and impairment to stop driving once and for all. When that six-decade-long ride comes to an end, what happens then?
Retirees Need to Keep Alternative Transportation High on the Priority List
This is a topic we’ve covered before here on the AgingOptions blog, but because so many families are facing – or will soon face – this issue, we wanted to bring you this recent article from the Kiplinger website, written by reporter Harriet Edleson. If you’re thinking of where you want to live in retirement, or if you have an aging parent about to make that decision, access to transit may not be high on your list of “must-haves,” but the article insists it should be.
“In the midst of a deadly pandemic,” Edleson writes, “it may be hard to imagine a time when riding mass transit or getting into a city cab will be perfectly normal things to do for anyone, let alone senior citizens. But eventually, when it becomes safe to do so, life will resume, and for many older adults who no longer feel comfortable driving, having an alternative mode of transportation may be the difference between independence and social isolation.”
Alternative Transportation Means Becoming a Passenger, Not a Driver
As Kiplinger observes, most Americans prefer not to think about a time when they can no longer drive. That sense of denial leaves them unprepared once that day finally arrives. “They think they’re going to drive forever,” says Katherine Freund, founder of the Independent Transportation Network of America, a nonprofit network for seniors that provides transportation for seniors in communities in 47 states. Eventually, though, something happens that prevents you from getting behind the wheel. Your vision deteriorates, for example, or you have a knee or hip replacement. You finally hang up the keys for good.
But typically, “it’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” Freund told Kiplinger’s Edleson, adding that the transition from driver to passenger usually happens in stages over 10 years. “At first, you might stop driving at night or to unfamiliar places,” says the article. “Then it might be avoiding longer distances or nearby cities. Over time, those cutbacks add up, potentially limiting your social interaction and damaging your quality of life.”
Without Alternative Transportation, Isolation Can Trigger Emotional and Health Problems
We’ve written several times before about the adverse effects of isolation and loneliness on seniors. (Here’s one example of an article from a few years back.) Isolation is directly linked to higher mortality rates and even an increased risk of cognitive impairment. “Social isolation and loneliness are real concerns for our growing population of older people,” Lisa D’Ambrosio from MIT’s Age Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Kiplinger. That means seniors and their families have to take mobility more seriously.Top of FormBottom of Form
As the article states, “Beyond the social benefits, reliable public transportation is essential for daily life, and location is everything when it comes to finding practical alternatives to driving. Some communities have better public transportation than others, including paratransit for disabled passengers who can’t use a public bus that follows a fixed route.” That’s one reason why seniors and families should take the issue of alternative transportation into account when making choices about retirement living.
Make Alternative Transportation an Issue Before You Decide to Move
“Think about these things before they become an issue,” says Rhonda Shah of AAA. “Transportation definitely should be one consideration before you make a move.” The Kiplinger article recommends that seniors make a list of five places they travel to on a regular basis, either by choice or out of necessity – for example, the grocery store, the post office, their doctor’s office, their children’s home, and a place of worship. Analyze how they get there now, but more important, discuss how they might access those places without a car.
“Family members and friends can help but only to a point,” the Kiplinger article advises. “They may be busy with their own lives, which means finding alternatives and learning how to use them.” Learn to use public transportation, which can sometimes be intimidating at first. Find places you can safely walk to if you’re in good health. “Some retirees also are turning to pedal-assist electric bicycles and three-wheelers for making short, local trips.”
Alternative Transportation Resources to Investigate
The Kiplinger article lists several possible resources that may be worth exploring. For example:
- GoGo enables people without smartphones to use ride service companies Uber and Lyft by calling 855-464-6872. The “concierge” fee is 27 cents per minute added to the Uber or Lyft fare; operators will quote an approximate fare before sending a vehicle. You can set up an account by phone or online, and the service will charge the card you have on file. There is no membership fee. Ask the operator if service is available in your area.
- National Volunteer Transportation Centercan help you find nonprofit transportation alternatives in your community.
- Rides in Sighthas a database that you can search by location for transportation options that serve seniors and the visually impaired.
- Village to Village Networkhelps communities establish a “village,” a group of volunteers that typically provides rides and other assistance for older adults. Visit the site to find or start a village.
- Walkscorerates cities, towns and neighborhoods based on how easily stores, parks and other destinations can be reached on foot.
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(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)