Aging in place — and moving around

Aging in place — and moving around

Our correspondent takes a look at local transportation options for elderly parents

First Person

There are many things that happen when we age.

We don’t see as well, hear as well, move as quickly. The process is really just a collection of things we thought would never happen to us. But they do. That is life.

One of the big concerns among the elderly is transportation. That’s because many of of them have had to give up driving for safety or health concerns (and of course some never drove in the first place). This topic was of interest to me because my father, who used to drive me and my siblings and our friends everywhere — not to mention that he was my mother’s personal chauffeur — recently stopped driving.

The conversation about giving up driving is one that you never want to have with your parents. It is painful, it is embarrassing (even though it shouldn’t be) and it just further emphasizes the point that your parents are getting less and less independent. They are getting old.

I recently went to a conference run by Age-Friendly Englewood, which is funded by the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation. Age-Friendly Englewood uses its grant to make Englewood a place where seniors are able to age at home — it works to make resources more accessible, sidewalks safer, and so on. This mini-conference was called “Transportation Options,” and when I learned about it I got all excited, because I thought I was going to be able to learn about some viable, reasonably priced options for my parents. I also hoped to be able to pass the information I was about to learn to members of the Sandwich Generation support group which I run at Care One in Teaneck.

In any event, the conference was well-put-together. That being said, it is an unfortunate truth that there are only three methods of transportation available to the local senior community. None of those three is ideal, but I can only hope that this situation will improve over time.

First, there is Bergen County Community Transportation. This is the least expensive option; it is donation only, and the suggestion donation is $1 per ride. Tom Murphy is the director of BCCT. “This is a government service and we transport over 1,400 people on a daily basis,” he said. The service starts picking riders up at 7 a.m., and it goes through until 6 p.m. Some of the BCCT buses are used to deliver Meals on Wheels. All of the vehicles are wheelchair accessible. Mr. Murphy said that the agency receives more than 400 phone calls a day, requesting rides for all different types of needs. The budget is $6 million a year. And yet, “It is nowhere near enough for what we would ideally like to be able to do for the community,” he said.

What does Mr. Murphy mean? Well, there are many specific stipulations that fence in this transportation option. You must make your appointments between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., and you have to make your reservations at least seven to 10 days in advance. So if you have an emergency doctor’s appointment, which you scheduled today for tomorrow, you’ll have to call a cab.

For more information about BCCT, call (201) 368-5955.

Next, there is the Independent Transportation Network. In that service, volunteer drivers provide rides for people who are 60 or older, as well as for people who are at least 21 and visually impaired. This service is offered seven days a week, and you can book a ride 24 hours in advance. If you have an emergency, you can call to see if it can help you — it always tries to help.

ITN rides are not free. Membership for one person is $90, and it’s $100 for two people. The rides cost $1.50 a mile. However, according to its director, Mary Lyons Kim, “If cost is an issue, we will work with you.” The help you can get is  called a “Roads Scholarship.”

Be advised that the volunteers drive their own cars, so there is no wheelchair accessibility. Passengers must be able to get in and out of the car themselves.

Ms. Kim said that the agency always is looking for volunteers. Each volunteer is paid $.30 per mile. Drivers are screened thoroughly before they are allowed to drive for the ITN. For more information, call (201) 398-6885.

GoGoGrandparent was the third option presented at the conference. This company was started by a young man who wanted to help his grandmother learn how to use Uber and Lyft. The problem he encountered was that his grandmother didn’t have a smartphone, so she couldn’t get herself a Lyft or Uber ride.

GoGoGrandparent gives you a phone number to call; the person on the other end arranges the caller’s Uber and Lyft rides. The catch is that there is a 10 percent surcharge on top of the Uber and Lyft charges. But if cost isn’t an issue, this is a very helpful service for those seniors who aren’t smartphone savvy.

The phone number to sign up for GoGoGrandparent is (855) 464-6872

The bottom line is that there is no perfect transportation option available for elderly people in Bergen County. For seniors — particularly seniors who are physically challenged — getting where you need or want to be is not easy.

I truly hope that as organizations continue to see the needs of the elderly, there will be more funding to help those who need to get around.

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