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National survey looks at breaking down barriers to transportation for seniors

Only six per cent of Canadian seniors use public transit as their main mode of transportation
2022-03-15 tamblyn watts
Laura Tamblyn Watts is CEO of the advocacy group CanAge.

You can’t get there from here.

Many across the country, especially senior citizens, face this dilemma.

Barriers to transportation are one of the most significant problems seniors face, says Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of the advocacy group CanAge.

“Before we can find a solution, we need to better understand the problem.” she said, adding that the pandemic has “shown irrefutable proof that, for seniors, transportation is a health care issue.”

CanAge is calling on communities across the province to submit a “community profile” online, which will capture important information about their local area, what seniors’ transportation services are in place, and what challenges they’re facing in moving older residents safely from point A to point B. 

This work is being conducted as part of F.A.S.T. Track, a national initiative to support transportation innovation.

The deadline for community submissions is March 31.

“We are hoping to do a cross-country picture of communities, their challenges and successes,” said Tamblyn Watts.

Like most smaller Canadian cities, Sault Ste. Marie has programs in place designed to make public transit more accessible and sensitive to the needs of those who have difficulty moving around.

“When a senior customer requests information regarding transportation we always provide them with Parabus information and give them the phone number to contact the Red Cross or 211. We are cautious as to who we direct seniors to. There are people who provide rides for seniors for a nominal fee however, we do not know if they are insured or safe. We work with seniors to help them with the technology of calling for a Parabus or setting up some of the new transit apps,” said Vicky Taylor, Supervisor of Senior Services for the City of Sault Ste. Marie in an email.

Recently, the city launched BlindSquare, an accessible navigation and wayfinding system. The software uses GPS technology to estimate the proximity of bus stops, when passengers will arrive at each stop, and can audibly identify bus stops.

The city’s Parabus service is a specialized, curb-to-curb public transit service for persons with physical disabilities. The city website says “you may be eligible to ride the Parabus if you use a mobility device/aid, receive hemodialysis treatments, or are unable to walk 175 meters. If you have any comments or suggestions regarding the Parabus service, email ssmpara@cityssm.on.ca or call 705-942-1404.

The Community Bus is available to everyone, but is specifically designed to accommodate seniors and individuals with special needs. Stops include shopping malls, retirement homes and grocery stores. Cash fare for the community bus is $3.05.

Despite such efforts, there’s still a national problem when it comes to transportation, says Tamblyn Watts.

“They are often hard to book, inconvenient and not able to get to you on a regular basis,” she said when talking about the variety of services available.

The proof is in the numbers.

According to F.A.S.T. Track, only six per cent of Canadian seniors use public transit as their main mode of transportation.

Other statistics to ponder include:

  • 37 per cent of seniors experience isolation due to the inability to access a ride;
  • 42 per cent of senior non-drivers reported unmet transportation needs in the past six months;
  • 58 per cent of remote communities have primarily Indigenous populations facing disproportionate and distinctive transportation challenges for older adults.

“The big urban centres in many cases are the least problematic,” said Tamblyn Watts, but by the time you get out to the suburbs, transportation issues become more acute.

Combine this with efforts to keep people in their homes longer as opposed to institutional care, and the issue comes into focus.

“In times of winter when snow is falling or times of inclement conditions using transit is just not possible for people who are using walkers or wheelchairs or who can’t be outside waiting at a bus stop,” said Tamblyn Watts.

So far, the initiative has gathered approximately 100 submissions from communities across the country.

“Some of them are really innovative. Some of them are just basic common courtesy,” she said.

It can be as simple as setting up a system where people who are driving into town can connect with anyone who needs a ride. Community volunteers can sign up and get matched with seniors.

Some service clubs offer ride services and car dealerships can donate vehicles.

Insurance companies may also need to come on board to help.

There are numerous fly-in communities in Canada. Can some of the planes that deliver goods also help bring people back and forth?

After all the ideas and challenges are gathered up by the folks at F.A.S.T. Track, there will be a summit in May to bring it all together and find an easier way for all of us to get from point A to point B. 

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Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Community Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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