When you cannot drive and there’s no easy way to get around, staying at home- isolated from friends and community- becomes the easiest option.
Reliable, accessible, safe transportation allows seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and stay connected. A 2004 study by the Washington-based Surface Transportation Policy Project found that “seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to their doctors, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family than drivers of the same age.”
St. Francis Episcopal Church organized a transportation fair for seniors with assistance from Patti Spaniak of the Community Living Campaign on June 26. They invited transportation representatives from public and private agencies to summarize their services, answer questions and respond to comments.
The organizers hoped that 50 senior residents of the westside would attend but more than 100 showed up to learn about options for the when they are unable to drive, for others, for who that time had already come they were able to express frustration and anger.
Participants said: “Paratransit is unreliable; they can keep you waiting for over an hour” and “I’ve tried calling a cab, and the drivers don’t want to come to the neighborhood. Or if they do arrive, they’re impatient because I move so slowly. I don’t want to be housebound.”
San Francisco’s westside has been underserved by public and private transportation for seniors and people with disabilities who must rely on these services. As attendance and the crowds around the tables demonstrated, transportation is an important issue for seniors from West of Twin Peaks and other areas of the city.
Some providers—like DeSoto/Fly Wheel, Luxor, and Lyft—talked about their easily accessible phone apps, and in the case of the first two, their ramp taxis. The founder of Lift Hero, a ridesharing program exclusively for seniors, and still in the start-up phase, talked about how they screen and train drivers.
Muni’s representative reminded the audience that all of its buses and trains are fully accessible. SF Paratransit, which makes about 2,500 trips a month, announced its new group ride programs for seniors: vans to take seniors grocery shopping, and to museums. BART summarized its discounts for seniors and people with disabilities, and a relatively unknown program of discount field trips for groups of seniors.
“Senior riders,” the founder of Silver Ride explained, “have many needs, not only transportation from one place to another. They need assistance and support—help getting out of the house and assistance getting in and out of the car; they need someone to carry their bags and packages. Some of our passengers are scared to return to an empty house and a driver will accompany them and check the home so they know it’s safe.”
Silver Ride selects drivers who like older people and then specially trains them to meet their needs. “We’re reliable and friendly. We can take you to multiple places, stop and pick up your friends for an afternoon out, and we don’t make you wait. Silver Ride can even help you plan your trips.”
However, as one of the listeners discovered, these services are not cheap. Silver Ride currently charges $85 an hour.
The representative from Yellow Cab, a 30-year veteran driver, admitted that the company had made mistakes in the past, and that they had served the outer neighborhoods poorly. “We’ve learned. We revamped our call center and we are coming out to the neighborhoods,” he assured the audience.
The last presenter, Matthias Mormino from Supervisor Norman Yee’s office shared good news. “The 2015-16 city budget increases funding for senior services, services in the neighborhood and more group vans. We expect the transportation situation out here to improve.”
After the presentations, listeners crowded the providers’ tables for more information. Several providers had parked their vans outside so participants could test their comfort before leaving for home.
“Today is not the last day you’ll hear from us,” Dr. Margaret Miller told the attendees at the meeting’s close. “We’ll be around; we want to continue sharing what’s available, and learn what’s working and what isn’t.”
For more information, contact Patti Spaniak at firstname.lastname@example.org or (646) 409-7775.