We love to drive. The average American over 65 drives over 7,600 miles per year (which is less than the average American at 13,000 miles per year, but still an impressive amount). Our personal vehicles can feel like our lifeline—they give us access to medical care, daily errands, recreation, and social events. But as we age, the quick reflexes, sharp eyesight, and mental resilience necessary to drive a car may decline. And after a lifetime of vehicular freedom, many seniors find themselves with their driving privileges revoked.
So what are the options when driving is out? Here are a few suggestions, from good old public transportation to some newer options, fueled by technology.
If you live in an area with access to public transportation, know that public transit systems around the country are working to make their services more accessible to older customers. For example, the Valley Metro System of Phoenix, AZ has replaced 80% of their bus fleet (with a goal of 100% replacement) with low-floor vehicles for easier boarding.
If you’re comfortable with using mobile phone apps, there are several that can make public transportation easier. One example is Moovit, which lets you search for a destination and provides you with step-by-step transit directions. This app also features “Live Directions,” which will keep you updated with arrival times while you wait for your transportation and, once you’re traveling, will notify you when you’re at your stop and it’s time to get off, which is helpful if you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory.
Uber and Lyft
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are a reliable, flexible way to stay mobile if you can’t drive. Here’s how Uber works. First, you create an account with the company on a computer or on their mobile phone app. When you want to request a ride, you can use the app or website to enter your destination and pick up location, and the company sends a driver – in their personal car – to come and pick you up. Drivers are screened before they are hired; Uber checks their driving histories and criminal histories. The most common way to pay for the ride is through the app, but you can pay by cash or credit card, too. Prices vary based on the length of the trip and current demand for services, but the app will tell you how much the trip will cost before you book it.
Uber is also working on making their services senior friendly. One way is by allowing users to request rides for other people. This means that you don’t have to use the app yourself; a family member or caregiver can order, manage, and pay for the ride for you.
Dial-a-Ride (and Beyond)
Dial-a-Ride services, also known as demand-responsive transport, have been around for a long time and are also a good way to get around, especially in rural areas and other places that lack access to public transportation. These services are often restricted to people over 65 or people with disabilities, and this means their vehicles are well-equipped to handle wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Advance reservations are required, usually by the day before, and reservations are typically made by phone.
Dial-a-Ride transportation can lack flexibility because of the advance reservation requirement and limited service times. But some transportation innovators have a new idea, called microtransit, and with it they hope to combine the flexibility of ride-hailing apps (like Uber) with the affordability of mass transit (like buses). Microtransit vehicles are multi-passenger, but more like airport shuttles than city buses. They don’t have predetermined stops; instead passengers use an app to request a ride. Several microtransit companies have opened and closed in the past few years, but the idea could still turn out to be a useful solution to keeping seniors who can’t drive mobile and independent.