Public Transportation, by Elaine Sexton
She is perfectly ordinary, a cashmere scarf snugly wrapped around her neck. She is a middle age that is crisp, appealing in New York. She is a brain surgeon or a designer of blowdryers. I know this because I am in her skin this morning riding the bus, happy to be not young, happy to be thrilled that it is cold and I have a warm hat on. Everyone is someone other than you think under her skin. The driver does not have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his metal lunchbox. He has caviar left over from New Year’s and a love note from his mistress, whom he just left on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street. When she steps off his bus to take over the wheel of the crosstown No. 8, she knows she is anything but ordinary. She climbs under the safety bar and straps the belt on over her seat. She lets the old lady who is rich but looks poor take her time getting on. She lets the mugger who looks like a parish priest help her. She waits as we sit, quiet in our private, gorgeous lives.
Once again I have a train ticket. I’m traveling from Marquette, Michigan to Macomb, Michigan via Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Royal Oak, Michigan, where my lovely daughter-in- law will bring baby Evan to meet me after she’s worked all day. I tried to find a bus and learned I can’t get there from here. Well, I can if Mary leaves me at the bus at 2:15 AM. After 32 stops and a few transfers, I’d arrive 15 hours and 26 minutes later for the same price as a train ticket. I’d still need to be met over an hours drive away.
Getting from Madison, Wisconsin, 6 hours away to get here would have taken boarding the bus at 6:00 P.M., arriving in Marquette 12 hours later after 13 stops and $75.00. There is no train from there to here.
Finally I rented a car from Madison to Marquette, for double the cost, but a good nights sleep for me and my friend. But wait, there’s more. When I arrived at the Madison airport to pick up the car I’d reserved online I learned one cannot rent a car without a credit card or a round trip plane ticket from the place the car will be returned. (this was explained on the rental agency site but buried) Of course this makes a certain sense to assure that the car will be returned, but it is limiting for those of us who only use debit cards. Finally my friend rented the car and I was added as the second driver. She stayed home and I drove carefully; like the driver training teacher was beside me when I was 16.
I am among the most fortunate. I have a small safety net on my debit card and good friends who are helping me on my way when I need support. Others are not so fortunate.
Transportation is a critical issue for the majority of older adults. The availability of adequate transportation impacts whether or not older adults can meet their needs such as going to the doctor, going grocery shopping or attending events at the senior center. The inability to access transportation threatens the ability of older adults to maintain their independence and meet their basic needs. Additionally, it increases the likelihood that they will become isolated and inactive. Inadequate transportation is also a problem for family members who must miss work and rearrange schedules to accommodate the transportation needs of older adult family members.
My 95 year-old Dad is legally blind and mostly deaf. Dad is healthy and smart. He lives in a lovely assisted living center in Avon, Indiana. My brother drives him to doctor appointments and on regular outings. The van driver at the center takes him to the grocery store. Although he can take care of himself he cannot come and go as he pleases. He is stuck with no way to walk to shops or restaurants or the library for his talking books because the assisted living center is located on busy suburban roads full of gas stations and auto parts stores.
This is a problem that is acute in both urban and rural areas of the country; however, rural older adults like here in Marquette, face greater risks because rural communities have significantly less access to public transportation and walkable destinations. Older adults in these communities face higher transportation costs than urban older adults, and trips to church, the store, doctor, neighbors, friends and family tend to be significantly greater in distance.
I am judging livable cities by Bellingham, Washington because I lived there for 4 years. Although I lived 7 miles “out in the county” as they say, the bus stopped in front of our house many times a day until late at night. I could ride my bike into town. Once I was in my children’s neighborhoods I could walk or ride my bike anyplace – to the grocery store, farmers market, movie theater, restaurants, parks and the library. The young kids all walk or ride bikes to school. Students can take busses or ride bikes to the University or the community college. I could take a bus or ride my bike to the doctors offices and even to the hospital. There is a large independent living center in an old hotel right downtown and a nearby series of walking trails connect a variety of neighborhoods and downtown. (No wonder rents are increasing.)
On her blog site The Little Old Lady Stays Put, the author wrote: “Last night my friend and I went to the movies in the older community of Upper Montclair, NJ… And guess what? There were restaurants and shops and service providers and apartments and homes comfortably co-mingled within walking distance of the movie theater! Isn’t that a good idea? Why are we having to build new co-housing communities? How did all that get lost?”
Knowing we are all interdependent, I’ll leave you with her closing paragraph. Thanks LOL.
“Perhaps with all the creative people now involved in thinking about building community and counteracting wild senseless growth with sustainability, we can begin to resurrect some of these towns and villages. Aren’t virtual jobs sometimes transferrable? I’m sure someone is already out there thinking about how we can use them as the foundation for intentional, shared spaces for living.”