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Key Takeaways

  • Seniors with limited mobility or disabilities have multiple transportation options for getting where they need to go.
  • Paratransit is a public transport service that offers additional accommodation for those with disabilities.
  • Taxis and ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are great options for seniors.
  • Medicaid programs offer non-emergency medical transportation services (NEMT) that cover the cost of travel to and from medical appointments.
  • Seniors should look into local volunteer driver programs for free/low-cost rides.

With older age comes less mobility and in some cases, physical disability. It can become more difficult for seniors to travel to and from home without the risk of serious injury, especially if they can no longer drive. Fortunately, there are numerous ways for seniors to travel around town without having to rely on a car. It’s easier than ever for seniors to go where they want without worrying about how they’re going to get there. The following transportation services offer safe, affordable options for the elderly to continue life as normal when they can no longer drive.

Available Transportation Services for the Elderly

Understanding and utilizing available transportation services can pose a challenge considering all the options. There are four types of services that seniors can try out:

  • Public transportation services offer low-cost options to all residents of a local community. Riders travel by buses or trains that operate on a fixed schedule and travel a fixed route.
  • Private transportation services are operated by private companies that offer pay-per-ride services from paid drivers.
  • Volunteer transportation services are free-to-inexpensive rides offered exclusively to the elderly and disabled.
  • Paratransit transportation services offer additional accommodation for those who cannot travel on regular public transportation.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is best for seniors in good health who decide they no longer feel comfortable driving. It is affordable and can promote a sense of social independence in seniors, as they can comfortably travel without assistance or a personal driver. Public transportation includes bus and rail systems with fixed routes, designated stops, and daily schedules. Riders must pay a low fee, usually less than $4, when they ride.

Seniors who rely on walkers or wheelchairs can use most public transit systems, as every public bus is required by law to have a wheelchair lift and designated seating. Similarly, all public trains have at least one wheelchair-accessible railcar. It’s important that seniors who use wheelchairs research beforehand which stops and stations have elevators. Those with limited mobility should also consider possible limitations of public transit – including the walk to and from the stop/station, flights of stairs, and crowds during rush hour.

Paratransit

Public transit companies have a legal requirement to provide complementary services to the elderly and disabled. This service, called Paratransit, is for those who need additional accommodation in their travels. This means that Paratransit offers wheelchair-accessible vans instead of buses and trains. Rides can cost up to twice the price of a standard public transport ticket. Paratransit operates similar to regular service in that it travels through similar routes, works on a fixed schedule, and requires riders to meet the driver at a designated “bus stop.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) imposed the requirement of paratransit services across all states and cities with public transportation. Those interested in using the service must first apply and be found eligible. Age or disability alone are not qualifying factors, so applicants must demonstrate an inability to travel by bus or train without assistance due to a mental or physical impairment. Region-specific applications can be found online and information on eligibility requirements can be found here.

Private Transportation

Seniors may want to consider taking taxis for more private transportation. Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft provide car rides that can be booked and paid for via websites or mobile apps. In an effort to expand accessibility efforts, riders in some regions can request assistance with wheelchairs and/or assistance getting in and out of the vehicle. Assisted living facilities also offer private transportation for seniors to travel within their communities.

Medical Services

Medicaid programs offer non-emergency medical transportation services (NEMT) that cover the cost of travel to and from medical appointments. This is exclusively for healthcare needs and requires riders to schedule appointments in advance. Eligible riders generally demonstrate a need for coverage based on low income, an inability to drive, and/or physical impairment. A growing number of Medicaid programs are also beginning to cover Uber and Lyft rides. Seniors with private insurance who might like this type of service should contact their provider for information on similar services and coverage.

Volunteer and Non-Profit Transportation

Local volunteer driver programs offer transportation services for the elderly. Individuals, local businesses, churches, and non-profit organizations generously offer this service to those who need it. Rides are generally free or inexpensive, running between $0 to $10. All charges are donations to help cover transportation costs, such as gas or necessary car repairs. Most volunteer rides need to be scheduled in advance, so they typically do not offer emergency transportation services. Volunteer transport programs are independent and region-based, so seniors will need to contact their local program for specific information on how to sign up, how to schedule rides, and what charges, if any, may apply. Find a volunteer driver program in your state here.

The Independent Transportation Network of America (ITNAmerica) is a nonprofit transportation service network for seniors and the visually impaired. With trusted transportation partners all across the country, ITNAmerica provides rides for seniors above 60. The network charges an annual membership fee between $50 to $80 depending on the number of riders. Drivers provide assistance with bags and medical equipment as well as assistance for seniors who may have difficulty getting in and out of the vehicle. Riders also have the option to schedule rides in advance or share rides with other seniors in their area. ITNAmerica has additionally created Rides in Sight, a nationwide database that can find transportation services for those with specific needs such as a wheelchair-accessible vehicle or out-of-state travel.

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