To stay connected to the community and necessary services, seniors need reliable transportation.
And yet… providing seniors transportation is a complicated, difficult issue. Transportation is one of our most frequent requests for help at Heart2Heart. Seniors need help getting to doctor appointments. They want to attend our community events. They need help running errands or going to the grocery store.
Because we’re a faith-based organization, we receive many requests from seniors wanting to attend church every Sunday.
As our population of seniors is increasing, we have to figure out better solutions for allowing seniors to move around the community and maintain a high quality of life.
I want us to consider: What can we do to dream big for seniors when it comes to transportation?
Why transportation becomes difficult… and increasingly important
At least 20% of Americans who are older than 65 don’t drive, according to AARP.
Sometimes the reasons are physical — a lack of mobility or failing eyesight — or because of impaired cognitive function. Older drivers may begin to feel uncomfortable driving at night and navigating highways.
In car-centric communities like South Florida, losing the ability to drive presents new challenges. The first challenge is decreased accessibility to medical care.
Recently, a senior friend who lives alone called to tell me that he thought he was having a severe health issue. He didn’t have a ride to the hospital, so he was going to wait until the morning and try to schedule one.
Thankfully, he listened when I insisted that he call 911. He spent several days in hospital recovering from what turned out to be a serious problem.
No senior should be forced to schedule an emergency.
Secondly, the silent killer if you’re unable to transport yourself is isolation. The pandemic proved this fact, and I do not think we’ve grappled with the full effects of that isolation on our seniors.
It’s true that the pandemic opened the doors for seniors to watch church services from home. However, there’s nothing like the gathering of the saints on a Sunday.
How do we allow older residents to attend church and social gatherings as they wish?
The limitations of ADA paratransit
Not all seniors are able to use city buses or trains or the subway with ease. The alternative is called paratransit. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required all transit agencies to provide an alternative to fixed-route buses or subways.
All three transit agencies in South Florida offer a door-to-door service via vans, which seniors with a qualifying disability can schedule ahead of time. In Broward County, the Transportation Options Program, or TOPS, will take you anywhere you want for up to $7 per round trip.
Similar services are called PalmTran Connection in Palm Beach County and Special Transportation Service (STS) Miami-Dade.
The problem with paratransit is their lack of flexibility. Rides have to be scheduled the day before. Once routes are set, drivers can’t change the order of their stops. Your destination might be two miles away from your house, but you could end up going five miles in the opposite direction first.
You can imagine what a nightmare it is trying to get somewhere.
Years back, when I was working with Medicaid, I arrived for a home appointment to find the family frantic. My senior patient was two hours late from his dropoff time. He didn’t return for another two hours, meaning he had been in the van for more than four hours.
Of course, that’s an extreme case. I know lots of people who use TOPS regularly, so I can’t say it’s the worst thing. Some people have strong opinions about its quality, but my objective is not to criticize the transportation system we have.
It’s just not enough.
Organizations filling in the gaps
Some organizations, like Heart2Heart, have come up with innovative solutions. To start, our area has a number of private transportation companies.
One innovative group that I give tremendous kudos to is Papa. This service pairs “Papa Pals” (on-demand, contracted workers) to seniors who want help with companionship, everyday tasks and transportation.
The founder, Andrew Parker, started the company in Miami because he saw his Papa, his grandfather, dealing with some of these issues. Now it’s a nationwide organization.
At Heart2Heart, we attempt to meet growing transportation needs with volunteers. Our volunteers give seniors rides, sometimes weekly, to dialysis or cancer treatments… or church.
For me, it’s always a struggle, because I love to drive. Every time I get a request for a ride, I start looking for a van.
Later this month, we’ll explore solutions to this problem. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
What gaps do you see? What has been your experience with traveling around Broward County as a senior? What resources have you found on behalf of your older loved ones?