Transportation Options for Seniors: 6 Driving Alternatives

Did you know? By 2030, an estimated 20 percent of U.S. residents will be aged 65 and over – a huge proportional jump from 13 percent in 2010 and just 9.8 percent in 1970? And yet, The average American outlives his or her ability to drive by 6 to 10 years. Personal transportation for seniors must be tapped to fill the gap. Social and logistical independence is important for seniors. From running everyday errands to maintaining friendships, transportation is a lifeline – an escape from loneliness and isolation, a necessity of living alone, and the means to other life-prolonging (and quality-of-life-improving) benefits. So, if your parents or senior loved ones can no longer drive, or no longer want to drive, what can you do? What personal transportation options exist? And, which will work best for the seniors you love most?

When is it Time to Stop Driving?

The stereotype of seniors clinging to their driver’s licenses is based in fact – and fear. A study from the Beverly Foundation found that seniors continue driving, “as long as possible because they are unaware of, or do not believe they have, alternative means of transportation.” Of course, a lack of alternate transportation does not mean that seniors should continue to drive. Let’s review the facts:

  • A 60-year-old requires 3 times as much light to drive as a 20-year-old.
  • A 55-year-old takes 8 times longer to recover from glare than does a 16-year-old.
  • Peripheral vision narrows and depth perception declines as we age.
  • A driver 40+ can take up to 1 second longer than a younger driver to refocus. (Ex. Between looking down to change the radio, and then back to the road.)
  • Colors, especially brake-light red, become more difficult to see as we age.

Bottom line: Many seniors will reach a time when they’re no longer equipped to drive safely. And yet, most aged adults will continue driving until the last possible moment, at which point, according to the Beverly Foundation, they “are so disabled that they are unable to use most public and para-transit systems.”

Personal Transportation for Seniors – 6 Options

The truth is, many seniors would be safer and more comfortable, if they had easy access to alternate personal transportation. So, what are the options?

Option #1: Medicaid Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT)

Did you know that Medicaid provides non-emergency transportation to and from medical services? To qualify for NEMT services, seniors must:

  • Be eligible for Medicaid;
  • Not have a valid driver’s license;
  • Not have a working vehicle available in the household;
  • Be unable to travel or wait for services alone; or
  • Have a physical, cognitive, mental, or developmental limitation

Of course, this covers only transportation to and from medical appointments. So, what about the other 99% of the time?

Option #2: Public Transportation

If you’re located in an area served by public transportation, then you’re in luck! Public trains, subways, buses, and other transport can be a great choice for seniors, especially if they’re still relatively mobile. But if not…

Option #3: Paratransit Services

If the elders in your life require wheelchairs or have other disabilities, research the availability of ADA para-transit services in your area. These services may be operated both privately or publicly, and typically supplement fixed bus and rail routes in your area. The general rule for paratransit services states that vans and microbuses must be equipped with ADA facilities, and must run within 3/4 mile of existing bus/train stations, on the same schedules, and for no more than 2x the cost of standard fares.

Option #4: Supplemental Transportation Programs for Seniors (STPs)

In many urban and metro areas, organizations operate STPs: low-cost, community-based, and independently-funded transportation services for seniors. Often staffed by volunteers, these programs are funded through a variety of grants and donations, enabling them to offer highly responsive, relatively economical on-demand transportation.

Option #5: Door-through-Door Private Transportation

In many urban, suburban, and even some rural communities, taxi services and private transportation agencies (ex. GoGoGrandparent and iTNAmerica) are geared to seniors and offer on-demand, door-to-door, and even door-through­-door transportation. Senior-friendly services offer help with walkers, wheelchairs, and bags (including grocery bags), for a mileage- and time-based fee.

Option #6: Volunteer Driver Programs

Social programs, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and other volunteer organizations often gather around cities, suburban communities, and senior living hotspots to offer free and low-cost transportation for seniors. For information on these options, plus availability in your local area, we recommend contacting your nearest Area Agency on Aging. Additionally, AAA (the American Automobile Association, not the Area Agency on Aging) offers resources for finding senior transportation services near you, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an eldercare locator, complete with information on sourcing elder transportation near you.

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