Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Think it’s tough getting around metro Atlanta without a car? Try it when you’re elderly, when your physical abilities are not what they once were. That’s when getting to the grocery store or doctors’ appointments take on the challenge of a cross-country trip. Without a strong focus on complete transit, seniors get left behind as often as lower-income residents.
Commenting is open.
By Evelyn R. Dane Kennedy
Since I first began driving at age 24, the automobile has been an integral part of my life. I used it every day to take my seven children to school, to doctors and dentists and to extra curricular activities. I was also on the road as a teacher for 40 years, as mayor of Chamblee for one term, as a community volunteer and in service with the USCG Auxiliary on Lake Lanier.
Then, when my mother was in her seventies, my daughter and I had to convince her to give up her car. At that time I made a resolution that when my time came, I would make the decision myself and not leave it to others. A year or so ago, even though my health was good and I was issued a new license, I was diagnosed with macular degeneration, and my hearing was deteriorating. I put down my keys and called it quits.
The transition was stressful, and it is still occasionally problematic. I have a great deal of support from family, friends and neighbors, but as an independent person, it is sometimes difficult for me to have to depend on others and ask them to do things for me. One big problem is making an appointment several weeks in advance and not knowing if transportation is available. Planning and writing everything down is an absolute necessity. When a relative, friend or neighbor goes shopping and asks me along, I need to be prepared to pick up those odds and ends I used to accomplish with just a quick car trip.
As far as what is available beyond family, friends and neighbors, there are some options.Taxi cabs are always available for short trips. MARTA Mobility is available to many seniors. My experience with MARTA is that it is a wonderful service for those who have unlimited time. It is hard to estimate the length of time that an appointment will take, and pick-up waiting times may add up to another hour before and after appointments. This makes it difficult for those who have busy schedules.
A better public transportation system for seniors would be very helpful. DeKalb Senior Centers have a Golden Shuttle service available to seniors during the morning and early afternoons. It goes to some malls, grocery stores, libraries, YMCAs and so forth, with different schedules on different days. The main problem with that service is that it closes down too early in the day.
It would be ideal to have a shuttle that ran a regular route in neighborhoods from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This has been under discussion in cities, counties and senior centers and at the Atlanta Regional Commission for years as part of the Aging in Place program, but it is still only a dream in progress. A more effective shuttle would make it easier for seniors to give up driving and still stay in their own homes.
Evelyn R. Dane Kennedy, 85, is a former mayor of Chamblee.
By Judy Waters and Tom Worthan
Recently, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined the transportation challenges older adults face today in the Atlanta region. Deciding when to give up your car keys or when an aging loved one should do so is a complex challenge in a car-centric place like metro Atlanta.
The poignant stories of individuals who face losing their independence after years of working, raising families and serving their communities are emblematic of thousands of individuals and families across the region. Many older drivers begin to accommodate physical changes by driving less often and only in familiar territory. But most often, drivers strongly resist giving up the car keys entirely, because the loss of independence is too much to bear.
Let’s face it, moving around the region is very difficult for those who do not drive. That fact was brought home last year in “Stuck without Options,” a Transportation for America report that ranked metro Atlanta as worst in the nation for access to transit by older adults. Without an alternative to the car, many non-drivers are indeed “stuck.”
Older adults are the fastest-growing segment of metro Atlanta’s population. They can no longer be considered a special group with special needs. Their needs must be planned for and financed, just like we plan for and fund transportation infrastructure for commuters and freight haulers. So, what are the solutions?
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is committed to helping the region prepare for a future that includes all residents, no matter their age or ability. As both the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Area Agency on Aging, ARC has a dual mandate to consider the mobility of everyone, including older adults. Last year’s transportation referendum proposed $10 million for transportation alternatives for older adults and non-drivers, almost doubling the funding available. Despite the referendum’s failure to pass, the challenges of meeting the mobility needs of older residents still exist and increase with each passing year.
Federal funding to address the transportation needs of older adults specifically is tiny, approximately $2 million, compared to the billions of dollars in projects included in the region’s six-year transportation program. Despite the small amount, the region has used these dollars to help pay for alternative transportation programs including vouchers, travel training and wheelchair-accessible vehicles. But with the consolidation of funds in the newest federal transportation bill, support for transportation options is shrinking just as the demand is increasing.
Other regions are charting a better future for their older drivers. Communities around the nation are seeking new and creative funding sources to tailor transportation services to specific local needs. Metro Atlanta must do the same. The time will come for each of us when driving will not be an option. The time to expand those options — that keep us independent in our communities for as long as possible — is now.
Judy Waters is chairwoman of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Aging Services Committee. Tom Worthan is chairman of ARC’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee.