Transportation issues plague seniors

As the baby boomer generation rapidly approaches and reaches retirement age, so grows the need for transportation services. While many seniors have access to cars, there is also a growing number who don’t have immediate access to personal transportation and instead rely on public and group transportation.

According to their website, King County Metro offers “accessible services” for seniors and those with disabilities, but the future of these services is uncertain due to continuing cuts to Metro.

Hanna Binder is a master’s student leading a focus group on senior transportation issues.

“There’s a perception with older riders that it [Metro], takes forever to use,” she said. “You have no idea when they’re going to pick you up. It’s really problematic for people who might be older, have less energy, or have a mobility impairment if it takes them three hours to get where they’re going.”

Margaret Goodman

WCSC member Margaret Goodman boards WCSC’s van. The van provides members with a reliable alternative to other public transportation options.

Travel time when using traditional bus routes is problematic for Wallingford Community Senior Center  regular and volunteer Joy Byrum.

“[It’s] too inconvenient to take the bus. The 28 goes by [WCSC] quite often, but the bus I have to take to get [to the 28] doesn’t, which makes for a very long trip for me,” she said.

Binder says the problem goes beyond basic transportation issues: there’s also a link between basic transportation and actual health issues.

“For people with any kind of cognitive impairment, there really isn’t any transportation to provide a level of supervision that they need,” said Binder. “It creates a lot of social isolation and other problems—that people are having difficulty getting to medical appointments or getting to a grocery store—that can cause difficulties with physical and mental health.”

There are also private companies that help local seniors get around town.

Hyde Shuttles, created in 1997, works with King County Senior Services to provide seniors with transportation to social events, restaurants, and grocery shopping.

WCSC also provides its members with shuttle service, in partnership with King County Metro, from members’ homes to the Center in Wallingford.

Mike Lemon has been driving WCSC’S shuttle for 14 years and says it’s become more than just transportation to members.

“We become friends, and they share their ongoing experiences with me,” he said. “Sometimes they share information that they are having trouble with something, and though I can’t directly help them, I can make sure it gets forwarded to someone who can help.”

WCSC’s shuttle runs on Wednesdays and Fridays and “allows members to get out of the house and for widows and widowers to get a meal and socialize when they normally couldn’t get out to do that,” Lemon said.

The transportation issue went to the voters earlier this month. Prop 1, which would pay for more King County Metro Transit hours, passed handily.

That’s good news for those seniors relying on these resources.  Without them, seniors like Byrum might rarely leave their home.

“Three years ago I used to drive. But I got hit and haven’t driven since,” said Byrum. “I could still [take a taxi] in an emergency. [I] wouldn’t be getting out the house very often if it wasn’t for Hyde and WCSC’s van.”