Tuesday, September 16, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Access to transportation is a must as we age

Pat Hecht of the Senior Citizens of Davis tries out a recumbent bicycle at the city of Davis' travel training workshop last month. Elaine Roberts Musser/Courtesy photo

By Elaine Roberts Musser

At some point in life, as individuals age, the time may come to consider giving up the keys to their automobile. As people enter their senior years, their response times can decline and their dexterity may greatly diminish. With certain health problems like dementia, a doctor is required to report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

All of these may contribute to the limitation or suspension of the afflicted person’s driver’s license. An inability to drive represents a true loss of independence. For seniors thus affected in this way, such a prospect is downright frightening.

If a person can no longer drive to their favored destinations, how do they obtain groceries, get to medical appointments or travel to a friend’s house? Essentially, in what manner do they carry out the activities that are crucial to daily existence, or make life worth living?

Isolation and loneliness can be a very real difficulty for seniors to overcome if they have no transportation options. Travel training helps those contemplating the prospect of losing their ability to drive realize local public transit options exist in Davis they can utilize. And travel training done in the right way can provide much-needed and all-important socialization.

Davis has a wonderful fixed route student-run bus service, Unitrans, like no other in the world. Unitrans covers virtually all of Davis, provided the user has the ability to walk to the nearest bus stop. And this service is free for seniors 60 years of age and older. There are also bus routes provided by Yolobus and other transit systems that serve neighboring communities such as Sacramento, Woodland and Vacaville.

If trekking to the closest bus stop is not possible, Davis Community Transit, a door-to-door transportation service, is on hand, assuming a doctor’s pre-approval is provided. If transportation outside the city is necessary, Yolobus Special, an inter-city door-to-door transportation service is another potential option.

Such readily available alternatives will result in seniors being more willing to give up the keys to their car, if that eventuality becomes necessary. Encouraging the elderly and disabled that transit choices other than driving are available represents greater safety on the highways for everyone.

But that does not necessarily mean seniors will use those services, especially if they are intimidated by the complexities of public transit and paratransit opportunities. This is why a new Travel Training Program offered by the city of Davis and transportation partners is so important. It provides a safe, gentle and friendly environment to learn how to access such services. When followed up with monthly social excursions, it then gives confidence to participants in continuing to try out what they have learned. The more the public uses these existing services, the less reliance there will be on driving a car.

If riding bicycles is more to a person’s liking, that selection is also available in a specially coordinated Travel Training Program. Bicycle skills and safety are critical to learn, before attempting to join the ranks of the myriad Davis cyclists whizzing past slower-moving bicycles! And all those walks to and from bus stops and riding bicycles has the added benefit of improving health.

In light of these realities, the city held an extremely successful event on April 27 to formally kick off its Travel Training Program. Approximately 50 senior citizens and disabled people attended, enthusiastically learning how to access Unitrans and Davis Community Transit, as well as becoming better educated on how to ride bicycles safely. The audience was then invited to continue their training in monthly social excursions around town, a bustling city chock full of interesting things to do.

The initial inspiration for travel training was from former Davis Senior Citizens Commissioner Tansey Thomas. She brought the idea to my attention, and I took this intriguing notion a step further in my capacity as chair of the Triad Task Force, the action arm of the Yolo County Commission on Aging & Adult Services.

Two $30,000 grants were then obtained from SACOG. This funding was used for individualized transit mobility training, facilitated by Paratransit Inc., a nonprofit corporation in Sacramento. Transit mobility instruction was brought to the three major cities within Yolo County: Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento.

Of the three cities, Davis turned out to be the most successful. Unfortunately, the money quickly ran out, with no other grant funding appearing on the horizon. The project ended when funding dried up. However, a few years later, as an outgrowth of the Transportation Advisory Group, a survey was given to participants in a community workshop for the General Plan Transportation Element Update asking for input on local transportation needs.

In the survey, I mentioned travel training for seniors and the disabled as an unmet need, which was of particular interest to city of Davis transportation planner Brian Abbanat. A serious discussion ensued, and the Travel Training Program was re-born!

Representatives were brought to the table from Unitrans, Davis Community Transit, Yolobus, the Davis Senior Center and the Davis Senior Citizens Commission. An invitation also was extended to Dave Kemp, the city’s active transportation coordinator, and a city intern was included. All of these skilled professionals wholeheartedly joined Abbanat in creating a program to teach seniors and the disabled how to use public transit through social trips around the city.

For about six months, this group of experts worked diligently to plan the program, putting in countless hours of extraordinary effort to make it work. Their ardent enthusiasm was infectious, and was greatly responsible for the success of the April 27 workshop. A number of volunteers were rounded up for the occasion, providing additional support. The nonprofit Senior Citizens of Davis Inc. provided refreshments.

The city and its transportation partners will host a travel training workshop twice a year, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 19 at the Davis Senior Center, 646 A St.

The group aspires to expand the Travel Training Program to include nighttime excursions for those who do not feel comfortable about driving at night; transportation to medical appointments outside Davis’ and other unmet needs for seniors and the disabled. Thus far, the program is running without formal financial support, with plans to obtain grant funding from various sources to help it expand.

If you are interested in learning about the Travel Training Program, please contact Abbanat at 530-757-5610, ext. 7301, or visit http://community-development.cityofdavis.org/travel-training-program.

The travel training team consists of Linda Alemania and James Haven of Davis Community Transit; Anthony Palmere and Teri Sheets of Unitrans; Erik Reitz of Yolo County Transportation District; Elaine Roberts Musser and Margot Loschke of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission; and Brian Abbanat, Dave Kemp and Melody Eldridge of the city of Davis Transportation Planning Division. Ken Bradford of Ken’s Bike & Ski, Ronnie Taste and Nancy Webb all volunteered their time and expertise at the workshop.

— Elaine Roberts Musser chairs the city of Davis Senior Citizens Commission.

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