By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Half of non-drivers who are 65 and older stay home because they lack transportation options, according to www.seniorliving.org, a website specializing in senior-related issues.
This means that they may become more and more isolated, not buy fresh groceries as often as they need them and miss medical appointments.
But groups in the Central New York are working to change this, especially in outlying areas without public transportation and for people who struggle to afford paying for transportation.
Some older adults need rides to see multiple specialists for chronic conditions. Or they may need multiple rides to address an acute issue, such as the up to 10 rides for cataract treatment, including pre-op visits, lens fitting, surgeries and post-op care. For those with working or geographically distant family members, providing all those rides becomes challenging.
Without transportation, it’s easy for older adults to become isolated.
“You have a lot of people left alone,” said Dave McLoughlin, operations manager for Empire DM, which provides medical transportation in Syracuse. “The family may work so no one’s around. Our employees have interaction. Riders build a rapport with drivers.”
Unlike a bus or taxi driver, Empire DM personnel ensure riders can safely make it from the threshold to the vehicle and back. Riders include those who are ambulatory, use walkers or wheelchairs.
McLoughlin said the service offers discounts for groups of seniors picked up at one location and also people who schedule regular rides for ongoing care, such as dialysis.
Rates start at around $25 each way or $30 for wheelchair transportation.
For some seniors, paying for rides can take a significant part of their income. Organizations like Westcott Community Center in Syracuse provide senior curb-to-curb rides to errands and appointments. Joan Royle, executive director, said seniors come to the center for a meal and socializing, as well as the opportunity to ride to the grocery store, doctor appointments, and other places.
“If you’re an adult living in poverty, becoming a senior is much more difficult,” Royle said. “You face many more challenges.”
She added that for many lower income seniors, services like theirs are essential for them to get out of their own homes because transportation costs too much for them.
“Uber is still costly, though less than a taxi,” Royle said. “Most seniors don’t have a cell phone with the app. The cheapest means is the bus and at $2.50 a pop, is not that cheap, if you think about how limited their income truly is.”
The bus also doesn’t provide curb-to-curb service.
Westcott serves more than 400 seniors annually. Of those, 83 percent live in poverty. The center employs one driver and wants to take on more volunteer drivers. Last year, Wescott provided 5,726 rides to seniors who live on the west side of the city. No riders are required to pay for the services.
The same hold true for Community Of DeWitt Friends In Service Here (COD/FISH). Anyone living in DeWitt (whether senior or not) can obtain free rides to medical appointments.
In addition to rides to receive medical care, riders also receive interaction with others.
“It’s important for all of us,” said Jean Kimber, COD/FISH’s co-chairwoman. “Some drivers get to know clients well and clients enjoy their company.”
She said that organizations like hers fill a need for people who aren’t financially or physically able to use public transportation.
The organization gave 168 rides last year.
“I think it makes everyone feel good that they can assist someone in a pretty personal way,” Kimber said.
Laker Limo in Skaneateles offers rides on the basis of free-will donations to other places in Skaneateles and to Auburn and Syracuse for residents of the Skaneateles school district.
Randy Stockweather, executive director, said that few other options can help residents in the four senior facilities in Skaneateles as well as others without transportation.
“We don’t have a bus service in Skaneateles and calling a taxi is expensive,” Stockweather said.
His organization offers free rides for the economically challenged, though suggested donations are $3 to $5 for those able to help. Like Westcott, Laker Limo receives state funding for the program, which provides curb-to-curb service to medical appointments and other errands.
“There’s a social aspect to what we do,” Stockweather said. “We have a driver and escort, who helps them on and off, and engages them in conversation. There’s interaction a lot of seniors don’t experience otherwise.
“Since we provide transportation, we enable them to stay in their homes longer.”
All of his senior transportation drivers are volunteers who usually drive one day per month. He works with their schedule to make volunteering more convenient and provides training. The volunteers drive vehicles that belong to the organization.
In addition to appointments, Laker Limo provides outings to venues like Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards and Lights on the Lake. Lake Limo could also use more volunteers, as demand continues to grow.
Need a Ride?
For information on rides in Onondaga County, visit: www.ongov.net/aging/documents/OnondagaCountyTransportationServices.pdf.
For information on rides in Oswego County, visit: www.oco.org/transportation
For information on rides in Central New York, visit: https://211cny.com/taxsearch.php?&tax=B&tax=BT