Many aging organizations are intimately connected to or actually operate transportation service. They are well aware of the challenges of transportation coordination, Medicaid and other non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT), and transitioning from driving to other transportation options. I heard great ideas in Chicago at the annual conference of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) that demonstrated the value of working across communities with whatever partners are available. One attendee from Mountain Empire Older Citizens, the area agency on aging (AAA) in Big Stone Gap, VA, described how transportation is included in an “adoption” program involving houses of worship that take on responsibility for an older adult that includes access to medical care and socializing, as well as in-home assistance.
Attending a conference in a field outside of, though related to transportation, is a bit like visiting a parallel universe. Especially on the trade show floor, the world of exhibitors was missing the familiar buses, vans, seating, lifts, and technology associated with travel. The n4a trade show instead featured pre-made meals, medication tracking technology, and senior-friendly housing. Always a good jolt to remember that there are many pieces beyond transportation that enable people to remain independent.
Creating an aging-friendly transportation revolution
I made a presentation at an autonomous vehicles (AVs) session. My talk explained the elements necessary to ensure that the aging population reaps the benefits of the coming AV revolution through the puzzle pieces of law, policy, physical and interface accessibility, and rural geographic and financial equity. The other presenters were Carrie Diamond, a mobility manager and AV mobility management leader from Wisconsin, and an engineering professor from the University of Wisconsin. (Wisconsin Association of Mobility Managers) Our talks sparked lively discussion that showed a strong thirst for national leadership to advocate for equitable, accessible, age-friendly, and fair geographic distribution of autonomous vehicle services as they emerge.
An interesting session concerning the transportation revolution, one with lots of enthusiastic attendees, was sponsored by Lyft and included information about transit and transportation service partnerships with ridehailing companies. The Lyft speaker, Jake Swanton, the Senior Federal Policy Manager, featured the company’s attention to customer service for older adults, partnerships with health insurance systems, and geographic expansion. The other speakers were Kelly Tyler from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), who is the Program Analyst responsible for Section 5310, and who explained opportunities for and funding rules concerning transit-ridehailing partnerships; and a representative from a Northern California aging organization, who spoke about ongoing negotiations with Lyft to design the right type of service for older adults in a remote area.
Engaging, fun ways to transition to transit
My favorite session highlighted successful travel coaching programs that emphasize social connections, volunteer assistance, and performance measurement as important elements of teaching older adults to use transit. Information included funding from FTA and AARP, volunteer retention, complete streets, and places for outings for small groups being taught to use transit. The session speakers were from the On the Move Riders Program at LA Metro (which also involves the many transit systems throughout Los Angeles County) and the Transit Together Grocery Project in Salt Lake City, a pilot effort involving senior apartment buildings and grocery shopping. The growing On the Move Riders Program features ongoing riders’ clubs with monthly expeditions to LA’s cultural venues and events. New participants are recruited at pop-up concerts along transit routes, among other engagement strategies.
Word of Advice
If any wisdom is to be gleaned from visiting a parallel universe, particularly an aging-focused event, it is that seeing transportation from different perspectives – the perspectives of aging persons in need and the money-strapped programs that assist them – enables mobility management professionals, transportation programs, and transit systems to better fit service, information delivery, and interactive public engagement, to the community, to actual riders and to potential riders.