Authored by Susan Rees, Director of National Policy, Wider Opportunities for Women
“The conversation” – you know, the one where you try to convince your aging Mom or Dad to give up their car keys -- is occurring with greater frequency across the country. Middle class and suburban elders are increasingly facing the “stranded home alone” situation that has confronted younger people who don’t own cars and residents of distressed urban and rural communities who have always lacked access to decent, affordable transit systems or specialized transportation services. The baby boomers, faced with telling their parents they’re “grounded,” also dread the knowledge that it won’t be long before they are the ones whose independence and mobility will be challenged.
No wonder that 80% of Americans believe the country would benefit from an expanded, improved public transportation system, according to a 2011 poll commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Safe streets and sidewalks and accessible, affordable transit options are critical with the aging of our population. By 2025, 60 million people, one in five Americans, will be 65 or older. Livable communities should be available to anyone, whether they live in cities, suburbs or rural areas. Everyone needs safe streets and sidewalks and affordable housing close to transit. These are the things that will enable seniors to get out, get their groceries, receive medical care, maintain their physical activity and, in short, age in place in their communities.
The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index shows that transportation is the second or third largest expense in an elder’s budget after housing and, for some, out-of-pocket health care costs. Yet various pending budget proposals, including a balanced budget amendment or universal spending cap, would cut federal transportation subsidies by 30% or even more. Already, 80% of the nation’s transit systems have eliminated routes, cut service hours, increased fares, or a combination of all three, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
There is another way. Curbing our national debt can be achieved over a longer timeframe than proposed and with the help of equitable revenue increases. Meanwhile, President Obama’s transportation initiative could be adopted to create jobs and generate new revenues while providing the kind of transportation services our elders depend upon.