Jim Miller, an advocate for older Americans, writes “Savvy Senior,” a weekly information column syndicated in more than 400 newspapers nationwide. Based in Norman, Oklahoma, he also offers a free senior e-news service at SavvySenior.org.
Have you thought about what would happen if you or someone close to you could no longer drive? What now seems simple, such as getting to the doctor, the grocery store and other activities, could suddenly become difficult.
It’s a common problem—about 600,000 older adults stop driving each year in the US, usually because of vision problems or some other physical or cognitive impairment, according to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (most recent data available).
Smart move: Take a little time now to learn what the transportation options are for you—or for a loved one—if you or he/she ever need to give up the car keys. This will give you peace of mind and make life easier if that day comes.
Bonus: You may decide that it’s quite nice to not have to drive yourself everywhere even if you could and start using these services just for convenience!
Keep in mind that transportation options vary widely by community. While most urban areas offer a variety of different services, the options may be few for people living in some suburbs, small towns and rural areas.
Here’s a rundown of possible transportation solutions that could can help you or a loved one get around, along with some resources to help you locate them…
Family and friends. For most people, this is the first option, but don’t make the common mistake of limiting the people who can help to the most obvious ones. Include all the possible candidates you might call on for rides including your children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors. Determine their availability and contact information. It’s always best to give drivers plenty of advanced notice, and if you’re reluctant to ask for rides or feel as though you’re imposing, offer to reimburse them for their gas and time so that they feel appreciated.
Volunteer-driver programs. These types of programs—usually sponsored by nonprofit organizations that serve seniors and people with disabilities—typically offer flexible transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, shopping and other activities, and many provide door-to-door service or something called “door-through-door service,” in which the volunteer driver also helps you by opening doors and providing physical support as needed.
Drivers are usually part-time volunteers or paid workers that drive their own vehicle or the program’s vehicle, which may be a car or van. Many volunteer-driver programs charge a nominal fee for rides or suggest donations for rides, though some are free.
Examples: The Senior Corps Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, which offers volunteer-driver services in about 200 communities around the country, provides free transportation primarily to and from medical appointments. The Independent Transportation Network includes transportation programs in about 20 areas across the US and has more in development. It charges riders age 60 and older and visually impaired adults of any age annual membership dues of around $50, plus a $4 pick-up fee and a mileage fee of around $1.50 per mile. Rates will vary slightly by program.
Independent Transportation Network programs also offer a car-trade program that lets you convert your car into a fund to pay for future rides…and a car-donation program that provides a tax deduction if you itemize on your tax returns.
Paratransit services, also called “dial-a-ride” or “elderly and disabled transportation services,” typically are government-funded programs that provide door-to-door or curb-to-curb services.
Most paratransit services use mini-buses or vans and offer accessible services for riders with disabilities. They typically require reservations a day or two in advance and charge a small fee ranging anywhere between $0.50 and $10 on a per-ride basis. However, some services may be free for those who can’t afford to pay.
Return trips usually are scheduled at departure time to ensure riders have appropriate time at appointments or activities.
To locate a paratransit service in your area, contact your Area Aging Agency. Call 800-677-1116 or visit ElderCare.gov to find your agency’s phone number.
Public mass transit is a wonderful option in some cities, and people who haven’t used it in a long time are often surprised to find that it is pleasant and reliable. Of course, that doesn’t describe packed trains or buses at rush hour! But bus, rail and subway services in some cities are quite useful for many people who no longer drive. Reduced fares usually are available for seniors and people with disabilities. For information on options in your area, contact your public transit agency or visit the American Public Transportation Association.
Taxi/car services. These private services provide flexible transportation options but are more expensive than the previously listed options. Trips usually can be scheduled in advance or on the spot. Some taxis/cars are wheelchair-accessible and meet ADA standards. Taxi and car services in some areas offer senior discounts.
With a ride-sharing service, you can request a ride anytime from an independent driver who uses his/her privately owned vehicle to transport you. Ride requests with Uber are made using the Uber smartphone app or at the Uber mobile website…with Lyft, you use its smartphone app only. However, New York City Medicaid residents who are members of the National MedTrans Network now can request a Lyft ride to non-emergency medical appointments via phone by calling 844-714-2219.
You also can request the type of vehicle you want, ranging from a casual car such as a Honda Civic or Toyota Camry to a luxury vehicle.
Rates for all ride-sharing services vary greatly by city, the time of day you ride and the type of service you pick, but costs generally are comparable to taxi fares. Uber and Lyft drivers are required to undergo a driving check and criminal background check, although critics have complained that the process is not thorough enough, and Lyft does driver vehicle inspections, too.
Private transportation services. Some hospitals, health clinics, senior centers, adult day centers, malls and other businesses offer free transportation for program participants or customers. And some nonmedical home-care agencies that provide companionship, household chores and errand running offer fee-based transportation services. It’s worth asking any business or institution that you deal with (or that you might deal with) whether it provides transportation or has an arrangement with a service that does.
Drivers for hire. If you live in an area where there are limited or no transportation services available, another option is to pay someone to drive you. Consider hiring a neighbor, retiree or high school or college student who has a flexible schedule and wouldn’t mind making a few extra dollars. But before hiring someone, make sure you see a driver’s license and proof of insurance, and check references.
Two excellent resources for finding local transportation options include your local Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 or visit ElderCare.gov to find your agency’s phone number)…and a nonproifit service called Rides in Sight (call 855-607-4337).