Transit Industry Launches Initiative to Help Older Americans Stay Mobile

Program Encourages Greater Incentives and Investment to Meet Future Challenges; Showcases Current Successes of Transit Systems

WASHINGTON, May 16 /PRNewswire/ — To address the transportation needs of older Americans, the public transportation industry is launching an initiative to explore new and innovative ways to help seniors stay mobile and independent. The initiative, called “Easy Rider: Advancing Mobility Needs for Aging Americans,” was developed by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) this May to coincide with Older Americans Month.

Easy Rider is a collection of successful activities, sample materials and case studies contributed by transit systems that have taken steps to make public transportation more attractive for seniors. More than 6,000 transit systems nationwide currently provide some form of service for older riders. These range from reduced fares and expanded use of low-floor vehicles to personalized travel training sessions and policies that allow drivers to deviate from bus routes to get as close as possible to requested stops.

“Aging Americans need to plan for their transportation security just as they plan for their financial security … and I’m proud that our industry is responding to this challenge,” said William W. Millar, APTA’s president. “By sharing stories about transit’s best practices, we will spark new and improved services in communities throughout the country.”

Despite the best efforts of transit agencies, the mobility needs of America’s aging population are becoming increasingly critical issues. During the next 20 years, the number of Americans age 65 and older will double — from 35 million to 70 million. Last year a study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, AARP and APTA found that the United States is ill prepared to provide adequate transportation choices for a rapidly aging population of baby boomers.

More than half of all non-drivers age 65 and older stay at home and often become isolated largely because transportation options are limited, particularly in rural and smaller communities. This resulting isolation has serious social and economic ramifications for the nation.

“There is no single solution to this problem,” said Millar. “Easy Rider promotes a broad range of programs that are helping seniors feel more comfortable and more likely to use public transportation. We want the list of successful ideas and services to grow. Easy Rider is a beginning, not a conclusion.”

Over the coming months, under APTA’s leadership, Easy Rider will continue to collect and share information about exemplary transportation activities. In anticipation of the White House Conference on Aging, October 23 – 26, 2005, APTA will continue to highlight the critical mobility challenges facing the nation’s aging population and how transit systems are addressing these special needs. Easy Rider is an industry-wide effort that calls attention to the importance of creating and maintaining a vital, viable transit system for older Americans.

“The mobility needs of seniors are no longer simply family or personal issues, but must be a national priority,” said Millar. “The most successful senior mobility programs do not operate in a vacuum. Only through federal and local partnerships that reward community collaboration will long-term, viable transportation options be available to older Americans now and in the future.”

Below are several brief summaries of public transportation programs that are helping make transit more convenient and accessible for seniors.

APTA is a nonprofit international association of more than 1,500 member organizations including public transportation systems; planning, design, construction and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; and state associations and departments of transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical public transportation services and products. APTA members serve more than 90 percent of persons using public transportation in the United States and Canada.

Summaries of Successful Transit Programs
That Are Helping Seniors Stay Mobile and Independent

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS); Charlotte, North Carolina

In 1989, the Charlotte Transit Area System (CATS) began a special route for seniors that picked them up at various locations throughout the city and transported them to grocery stores and other essential destinations once or twice a week. Three years ago, CATS began a series of initiatives to educate seniors about its bus service and to demonstrate how easy and convenient public transportation can be. By partnering with local churches, senior centers and community groups, CATS sponsored “demonstration rides” to shopping malls and social events for older residents. “Demonstration rides” are scheduled seven or eight times a year.

In addition, CATS developed a database of bus stop features that identify elements needing improvement and installed a new trip-planning system to show photographs of stops to riders. Through the Elderly General Purchase Transportation Program, the agency and the Department of Social Services funds subsidized vouchers for use on local taxis for older residents who neither live near a bus route nor are eligible for transportation assistance through human service programs. Seniors in Charlotte also pay only half fare, are guaranteed reserved seating, and have access to low-floor or “kneeling” buses for easier boarding and exiting.

Palm Tran; Palm Beach County, Florida

Palm Tran operates Seniors in Motion — a comprehensive public awareness and training program for seniors age 85 or older living in Palm Beach County. Many of these seniors live in remote areas and gated communities with limited transportation options other than driving. To reach this “stranded” population, Palm Tran launched Seniors in Motion to inform older residents about its free fixed-route service and reduced fares on door-to-door service. The program also offers specialized training for those who may not know how to use public transportation or may have difficulty traveling on transit vehicles. Palm Tran conducts “travel training” seminars and presentations at senior clubs, community centers and other senior-related facilities to familiarize older residents with the public transportation system, as well as with route planning. The agency has two full-time trainers who have taught thousands of individuals how to ride the bus and use rail services.

Port Authority of Allegheny County; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Port Authority sponsors ACCESS, a door-to-door paratransit service for seniors and people with disabilities. Special vehicles pick up customers at their homes and take them to destinations including fixed route transit stations. There are no trip purpose restrictions and no capacity denials. Older Americans are getting more comfortable and familiar with the Port Authority fixed public transportation services. In 2004 alone, seniors took 6.4 million rides on the Port Authority’s fixed routes.

The Port Authority participates in statewide aid programs funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The state provides funding that enables seniors to ride free on all fixed route systems simply by showing a Medicare card or senior citizen identification card available through the Port Authority. They also provide deep discounts on shared-ride services. The Port Authority has replaced over half of its bus fleet with low-floor buses to make it easier for seniors to get on and off city buses.

Lane Transit District; Eugene, Oregon

Lane Transit District (LTD) operates a one-on-one training initiative called the Bus Buddy Program. The Program teaches seniors how to ride the bus in a relaxed way by breaking down barriers and building confidence. LTD recruits regular bus riders to serve as volunteers, known as Bus Buddies, and partners with local senior centers to match individual seniors with these volunteers. Bus Buddies teach seniors about the LTD transit system, as well as how to plan trips and navigate routes. Each Bus Buddy and senior then ride the bus together. Afterward, the pair discusses the trip and the Bus Buddy answers any remaining questions about using public transportation in Eugene.

In addition, seniors age 62 and older can ride LTD buses free every Tuesday, courtesy of community sponsors. Seniors schedule doctors’ appointments, visits with friends, and shopping trips on Tuesdays to take advantage of this offer. This has become an extremely popular program. For individuals age 70 or older, LTD offers a “Pass for Life” card.

CityLink; Peoria, Illinois

In May 2004, CityLink launched a six-month program to reach seniors living in the outskirts of Peoria. Most of the communities are very rural and have limited access to and knowledge about using public transportation. By partnering with two rural transit service providers, CityLink was able to expand and improve service to area supermarkets, banks, shopping plazas, medical centers and hospitals, and the airport. Since many of the these seniors were unfamiliar with public transportation, CityLink mailed “free passes” included in a targeted brochure to suburban and rural seniors as an incentive to try the bus system. Discounted fares (50 cents per trip) were promoted as well.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA); Ann Arbor, Michigan

In 1985, AATA expanded its door-to-door service by offering seniors shared-ride taxi trips within city limits. The great majority of the more than 5,000 seniors who qualify for the service do not require dedicated vehicles with specialized equipment and drivers, making taxi-operated trips less expensive overall. More than 50,000 rides were provided in 2004. AATA also offers a “Senior Ride Grocery Trip” service, which has been providing trips since the mid-1980s from 10 housing facilities to five area grocery stores. For some seniors, this is the only chance to get to the grocery store, and it has developed into a social club with as many as 30 seniors taking the “grocery bus,” traveling and shopping together. Finally, AATA operates a “Travel Training Program,” with staff visiting local senior centers, senior housing facilities and senior recreation facilities to educate residents about their programs for seniors.

Paratransit, Inc. (supported by Sacramento Regional Transit [RT] System); Sacramento, California

Paratransit, Inc. operates a Mobility Training Program that offers specialized training for seniors and people with disabilities who may have difficulty traveling on Regional Transit (RT) buses and light rail vehicles. Training is usually provided in a one-on-one setting, but is also done in small groups for facilities such as senior housing complexes. Training includes familiarization with the Sacramento RT system, route planning, use of wheelchair lifts and securement devices, landmark identification, bus rules, and safety issues. The agency has six full-time trainers who teach hundreds of individuals each year how to ride the bus and use light rail.

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