Getting Around After You’ve Given Up Driving

October 19, 2017  
Filed under Aging Parents

Hope Lindsay gets a ride from Laura Murphy, a volunteer driver with United WAy of Northwest Vermont's Neighbor Rides program. (Courtesy photo by Katie Figura Photography)

Hope Lindsay gets a ride from Laura Murphy, a volunteer driver with United WAy of Northwest Vermont’s Neighbor Rides program. (Courtesy photo by Katie Figura Photography)

By Stephanie Choate

Limiting your time behind the wheel — or giving up the keys entirely — can be a difficult step to take as you get older.

Despite Vermont’s rural nature, local transportation officials say it’s possible to get around without a car with a little advance planning.

The state invests $4 million annually in transportation for seniors and the disabled, according to Barbara Donovan, public transit manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

“The Vermont Agency of Transportation is very committed to transportation for the elderly, and we keep working on new and different ways to make it better,” Donovan said.

Donovan said unlike seniors who stopped driving 30 years ago — many of whom rarely drove and were used to only taking several trips to town a week — today’s seniors have had a lifetime behind the wheel.

“They grew up with a steering wheel in their hands and they have a concept and expectation of mobility,” Donovan said. “Often, there’s an element of ‘I want to be able to go wherever I want whenever I want.’”

She said people will have to adjust their methods of getting around—and also their expectations—as they reduce their driving time.

“You kind of have to put together a mobility package for yourself,” she said. “It takes some planning and some preparation.”

Leah Soderquist, who runs the Neighbor Rides volunteer driver program at United Way of Northeast VT also said looking at a variety of options is important. Soderquist recommended starting early—getting to know alternative ways to get around before you give up the keys entirely.

“You need to have a bunch of different options, seeing the personal vehicle as only one of those options,” she said. “It’s helpful to start to build skills earlier in life, to use public transportation earlier.”

If you’re willing to be flexible and plan out a mix of travel options, you can get to just about anywhere you want to go, according to local officials.

“Fixed route and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) transit in Chittenden County can get you for the most part anywhere in this county without a vehicle,” said Mark Sousa, Green Mountain Transit general manager. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Transportations officials all recommended a first step of calling your local transit agency and talking about your needs with employees. They can help you figure out a package of options, going over schedules, fares and availability.

Jordan Posner, mobility manager at Green Mountain Transit, said the agency works hard to provide ways for seniors and those with disabilities to get around for activities and social events, as well as medical appointments.

“As seniors are aging in place more often, it’s important to provide them opportunities to get out of their home,” he said. “What we’re looking to do here is life enriching, not just life sustaining.”

Seniors can also call Go Vermont at 800-685-7433 or 2-1-1 for transportation help and information.

Local officials pointed to several options to work into your mix of transportation options.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Donovan said one major part of a transportation package will be friends and family — as long as you’re willing to ask for help.

“There have been incredibly successful examples of seniors who turn to people who are going to the same activity or event and say, “I’d really like to go, can I ride with you?’” she said.

Some churches and local groups can also provide rides.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Vermont’s public transit system is more extensive than many people think. The state has bus routes connecting many towns, and hits a number of rural areas. Buses also connect to dozens of cities and towns outside of Vermont.

There are 18 bus routes in Chittenden County alone, including lines that link to Jeffersonville, Middlebury, Milton, Montpelier, St. Albans and enroute towns. Those over age 60 receive a discounted rate.

Senior shopping shuttles also run from several senior living areas to local grocery stores.

Donovan said the state has invested in electronically mapping bus routes so you can use online travel planning tools like Google Transit to find bus routes near you.

You can also visit Go Vermont, a resource for Vermonters who want to drive less, at www.connectingcommuters.com. The site directs visitors to transit options in their area.

Bus Buddies

United Way and Green Mountain Transit are also teaming up to provide help for new public transportation users. The Bus Buddies program, which is set to launch later this fall, connects a seasoned public transit rider with new users. The buddy explains how to read a schedule, pay the fare and determine a route, then they ride the bus with the new user.

“It’s not a one-time service, it’s available until you feel you can truly travel independently,” Soderquist said.

 Those interested in receiving Bus Buddy help can contact Posner at 540-0874 or jposner@ridegmt.com.

DEMAND-RESPONSE AND VOLUNTEER DRIVERS

Vermont’s seven local transit authorities provide small buses or vans that pick you up and drop you at a destination, called demand-response transit.

They usually require some scheduling, typically 48 hours. The cost for some trips will be covered — most travel to Medicaid-covered appointments, for example — but others may involve a small cost.

Those over 60 or with a disability typically qualify for a certain number of trips, Posner said.

“The availability for demand-response transit to respond quickly is limited,” Donovan said. “The important thing is proactively calling rather than calling in a panic.”

Vermont’s transit agencies also work with organizations to provide volunteer drivers.

“All of Vermont is covered by volunteer drivers in one way or another,” Donovan said. “Every transit agency has a volunteer component.”

For example, Neighbor Rides, a United Way of Northwest Vermont initiative, supports volunteers who use their own cars to transport seniors 60 years or older and those with disabilities. State transportation agencies match volunteers with those who need rides.

Neighbor Rides provides an average of 400 rides a month, Soderquist said, and is just one of several volunteer agencies utilized by the state.

 “We have wonderful volunteers in Vermont,” Donovan said. “They are so helpful and so giving and they want to be part of their community.”

“For United Way, it goes into a deeper desire to keep older adults active and involved in the community,” Soderquist said. “Transportation is a really important part of that.”

TAXIS AND RIDE SERVICES

In Burlington and other small cities, you can call several cab companies or use ride services like Uber and Lyft.

Taxis mostly operate in Burlington or more metropolitan areas, but will take you to outlying towns. You can also schedule a pick-up in advance.

Uber serves Chittenden County and beyond, as well as Montpelier, Barre, Stowe and more areas.

Lyft began offering rides in Burlington, Middlebury, Montpelier and the surrounding areas earlier this year.

To use either service, download an app onto your smartphone and set up an account. You then simply set your pickup location and destination, and request a ride. The transaction is completed through the app, and no money exchanges hands.

You can also estimate fares through the app. An Uber fare from Williston to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, for example, is estimated at $14-$19.

Keep in mind that ride services may not be available in many rural areas, or at all times of the day.

OUTSIDE THE BOX

Donovan also recommended considering transportation if you are downsizing.

Many seniors move into a smaller or more accessible home, and transportation should be a consideration. For example, can you walk to shops or activities? Is the residence close to people you know? Is it close to a bus stop?

Those who live alone could also consider HomeShare Vermont, which connects those looking to stay in their home with a housemate who can help them meet their needs. Help getting around is often part of the housemate agreement.

 

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