Driving can be freedom for most people. However, aging adults may end up losing the ability to drive, which can curtail years of independence they may have had. This is often on top of other losses associated with aging.
Transportation is a significant need for older adults. Getting to doctor’s appointments, shopping, accessing leisure activities and visiting friends are just a few of the activities that most of us take for granted.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 10 Senior Transportation Alternatives
- Why Is An Alternative Needed?
- How To Talk With Someone About Using Alternative Transportation
If your loved one is no longer driving, transportation usually falls to the primary caregiver. This can be an additional burden along with all of your other caregiver duties. Finding safe, reliable, and affordable transportation can help ease that burden.
10 Senior Transportation Alternatives
Here are some of the programs and companies available for senior transportation. Not all will be available in your area, so your options may be limited.
1. Senior transportation (Area Agency on Aging)
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging is a good place to start in finding transportation services for an aging or disabled individual. Local aging services programs either provide transportation services themselves or refer to another agency or program. It is important to keep these criteria in mind for most programs:
- Transportation is for medical appointments only and not to be used for shopping or other non-essential activities.
- Rides must be scheduled in advance and cancellation has to be arranged within a certain time frame. People who chronically fail to cancel with adequate notice may be eliminated from the program.
- Ask about the service area.
- Senior transportation programs will sometimes offer transportation to adult daycare.
2. Private senior transportation
Private senior transportation services are starting to proliferate across the country, as the growing need for transportation is not being met with only state and federal programs. These companies are filling a need, but there is a cost per ride which varies depending on a number of factors.
With these companies, most appointments can be made with little notice, assuming there is a driver available to meet the request. These drivers will meet the client at the door, help them in the car, and accompany them to their appointment. Then the client is left at the appointment and calls for a return ride.
Many companies also have several vehicles with wheelchair lifts or the ability to accommodate a stretcher. Other companies just have a sedan for people who don’t need wheelchair access.
Lyft and Uber are great options for people who can use a smartphone and order rides with ease. For those who aren’t comfortable using the Lyft or Uber interface, there is Gogograndparent.
Gogograndparent eliminates the hassle of dealing with a phone app. Once you call the main number, you press one number to access transportation, a meal, or grocery delivery. The membership fee is $9.99 a month. The Lyft or Uber fare is added to that cost.
In some cities, Lyft and Uber riders can request wheelchair assistance as part of their booking, and the companies have expanded accessibility efforts in recent years.
4. Public transit
Some seniors do use public transportation and are comfortable doing so. If your loved one is willing to try public transit (either bus, subway, or light rail), the cost is very reasonable. Many transit companies offer training to use their system and provide senior discounts.
Things to keep in mind are to make sure that your family member is able to physically access public transit since they won’t get any help on or off. Anyone with cognitive impairment is probably not safe on this type of transit. They would be too vulnerable and may get lost.
The American With Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that any community that offers public transit also has to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Paratransit has wheelchair accessible vans for pick up. Here are some other characteristics of the program:
- Paratransit services can’t charge any more than twice the cost of regular public transit.
- Pick up and drop off are curb-to-curb only. Drivers do not come to the door, although they will assist someone with getting in and out of the vehicle.
- Riders must register for this service in advance and meet eligibility criteria.
- Riders must schedule a ride in advance, usually 24 hours.
- People may have to wait 30 minutes or more often in the cold for a ride.
Taxis are a viable option for people who can afford it. Rides are on-demand without the requirement of advance notice.
The downside is that depending on your driver, you may not get help in and out of the car. Taxi service can also be expensive depending on the community where you live.
7. The Independent Transportation Network America (ITNAmerica)
The Independent Transportation Network is a non-profit transportation service for adults aged 60 and over. There is an annual membership fee. For that fee, transportation is provided around the clock, along with door-to-door assistance for getting in and out of the vehicle.
The downside: the program is only available in 13 communities across 12 states. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the states where they have a program, it is very affordable and easy to access.
Veyo partners with Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plans in seven states to provide transportation to seniors.
They use independent contractors who are trained in CPR and first aid training. You and your loved one may have to call your insurance company to see if they are contracted with Veyo.
9. Volunteer programs
Some non-profit and faith-based programs have volunteer transportation services. The place to start is to call 211, the national information and referral number that is available 24 hours a day. They will have information on any volunteer programs for your area.
10. Other family members
Don’t overlook the possibility that other family members might be willing to step in from time to time to provide transportation.
If you don’t ask they may not even know you need the help. Often a nephew, niece, or grandchild will be very open to helping, and it gives them a chance to connect with your loved one. You can also offer to compensate them.
Why is an Alternative Needed?
There are two common reasons that seniors need an alternative to driving. The first is cognitive impairment. For example, perhaps your loved one has had several accidents or has gotten lost getting home. In this case, safety is the primary concern.
The second reason is that your family member has a medical condition that does not allow them to drive safely. This could be a temporary or permanent problem.
How to Talk With Someone About Using Alternative Transportation
To get an idea of how challenging it can be to convince an aging adult to use another form of transportation, think about this: would you want to give up your car? Families struggle with the decision on how to suggest to an aging adult that it might be time to give up the keys and try other transportation.
Some barriers to using alternative forms of transportation can include the following:
- Not understanding the system for scheduling rides.
- Fear of not being safe or being left behind.
- The loss of freedom that comes with not being able to go where you want when you want.
- Refusing to accept that driving is no longer safe. If someone is a danger to themselves or others at the wheel you might have to take drastic steps. You can make a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles or enlist the help of your family member’s primary care physician. Some families even take away the car keys or disable the car.
While presenting the reason for driving as an unsafe form of transportation, you may want to have some solutions at the ready. With many of these conversations, you may want to be prepared to help them start certain programs, help sort out costs and address any questions they may have.
Here are some ways to help your family member get started:
- Offer to help with the initial call or set up of the system.
- Help them go through the process a few times until they feel comfortable accessing the program on their own.
- Provide some research on what program or company may be the easiest to access for the most reasonable cost.
- Ask about any financial support for transportation services.
- You may want to vet the programs you are considering by asking questions about helping your loved one in and out of the vehicle, emergency procedures, and safety protocols.
- What are the average wait times for a ride? If your family member has to wait a long time for a ride, they may not want to use the service again.
- Do drivers undergo background checks and drug and alcohol testing?
Alternative Transportation Can Mean Freedom, Too
Finding viable transportation for your family member can be a very positive experience for both of you.
You will get some relief and your loved one may find a sense of freedom again. With a little homework, you can find a system that works well but be prepared for a few snags in the process. Be flexible and patient with your family member and the system you choose.
Looking for a way to give back to seniors who can't drive? Read our guide on how to volunteer in a local nursing home.