Is your city's transit system prepared for the silver tsunami?

An interesting piece in Consumer Reports suggests that more than 3.5 million Americans 85 and older currently have a driver's license. But of the millions of older folks who can no longer drive safely, almost three-quarters live in areas with few if any transportation alternatives. And as Michael Tortorello writes, that's a senior transportation predicament that will only become more urgent as the 65-and-older demographic swells. Are your city's mobility services ready for the silver tsunami? – Liz Enbysk


Bus rapid transit, light rail, subways – all the fixings of a robust transit system may be the answer for young, healthy commuters. But to get the aged and infirm to doctor's appointments, the grocery store and the hair salon requires alternative approaches.

New York City, with its massive subway system, recognizes that. According to a New York Times piece, the city and Metropolitan Transit Authority provide paratransit services to about 144,000 people who can't negotiate the maze of stairways riding the subways require. But it isn't cheap; the piece suggests that on average paratransit costs MTA $57 per ride for each passenger in a shared vehicle.

New York City's service is called Access-A-Ride and it's a shared ride, door-to-door service; fares for eligible riders are the same as full fare on public transit.

Demand is growing
Demand for paratransit services is growing and many cities provide them through operators like Transdev, which recently added Phoenix to the list of metro regions it serves -- Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco/Oakland, Las Vegas and Baltimore among them.

Transdev will begin Dial-a-Ride operations in the greater Phoenix area on July 1; the service provides about 500,000 annual trips for eligible riders in the coverage area. Anticipating continued high demand for paratransit services, Transdev is partnering with AAA Taxi to maximize service coverage for paratransit customers during peak usage hours.

Ride-sharing for special needs
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are expanding options for seniors as well. In the UK, for example, Uber has teamed with the National Health Service and the caregiving firm Cera to offer elderly patients rides to the hospital using UberASSIST cars with disabled access and UberWAV vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs.

Lyft, meanwhile, has partnered with senior housing operators in some areas to provide rides that don't require a smartphone or credit card information, according to After55.com. Instead, the charges can be added to the residents' monthly bills.

Another ride-sharing alternative in San Francisco is SilverRide, which promotes its "door through door" transportation services with driver companions who provide a safe escort from indoors to the car and back indoors again. They'll even accompany a client to an event for an additional fee. Drivers are background checked, drug tested and trained to assist people with special needs, both physical and cognitive.

"There are lots of models that have aspects of what is offered in SilverRide," Virginia Rize, co-director of the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center told Forbes. "I think we’re in a period where there is tremendous development and enhancement of transportation options."

Autonomous vehicles for seniors?
Back in 2014, an article in the AARP magazine noted that self-driving cars were on the horizon and called them "a godsend" for older Americans. And certainly considerable progress has been made. But as a New York Times article pointed out earlier this year, there will be hurdles to overcome.

The Times talked to Doris Alexander, a retired registered nurse who lives in Chicago and recently tried Uber for the first time. She enjoyed that well enough, but says she cannot envision going driverless. "I wouldn’t know how to act,” said the 77-year-old who typically relies on public transportation. "The concept that I’m in a car, the car is driving, and I have no driver — it’s just something that’s a little too strange for me."

Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology AgeLab in Cambridge, suggested purveyors of autonomous technology would be smart to keep older drivers in mind. "If seniors don’t trust the technology and don’t like giving up control,” he told the Times, "it will slow down this business dramatically."

Related topics:
Driverless shuttles: another step toward smarter urban mobility?
Could your city's old folks use a helping hand from new technology?

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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