Thursday, August 13, 2009

Helping Elders Meet Their Transportation Needs

Kristen, our Elder Economic Security Initiative intern, writes about the reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Authorization Act and why this piece of legislation is important for elders.

Law makers are discussing opportunities to improve public transit through the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009. The legislation which delegates funding and transportation priorities for the United States is up for reauthorization. This gives advocates an opportunity to let federal policy makers know the importance of having multiple transportation options for older Americans, not only in densely populated areas but in suburbs and rural areas as well.

According to a report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, over 20 percent of individuals 65 and older in 2004 did not drive due to reasons including their health, personal safety concerns, or lack of automobile access. More importantly, more than half of these non-drivers did not leave their homes on a given day because they did not have access to transportation. Individuals who live in rural areas and suburbs, those without automobiles, and communities of color are most affected by this lack of transportation.

Despite these barriers, elders continue to travel to meet basic needs. In 2001, elders as a whole took 310 million public transportation trips, as stated by the American Public Transportation Association. Doctor visits, trips to family members and friends, and grocery store trips all require adequate access to transportation. The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index shows just how much it costs elders to meet their transportation needs based on their geographic location. For example, in the city of Minneapolis, MN, transportation costs a single elder $221 per month, and a couple, $390. In rural areas where destinations are farther apart, transportation costs a single elder $251 and a couple, $442!

Transportation advocates are working diligently to provide recommendations to Congress about how transit can best serve the needs of all citizens. Providing options like, “complete streets” that works to increase safe sidewalks and crosswalks will encourage other forms of mobility. In addition, more funding should be delegated to services specifically for older individuals and citizens with disabilities. Currently less than one quarter of a percent of federal transportation funding is given to the Specialized Transportation Program for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities. For transportation to be efficient, it must correspond to its riders’ needs. Older Americans must have affordable and accessible options for mobility in order to age in place.

You can keep track of the National Surface Transportation Bill by clicking here!

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