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.
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 Buffalo area are working to support the travel needs of older adults, especially in outlying areas without public transportation and for people who struggle to afford paying for transportation.
“There are so many seniors who don’t drive or can’t drive in winter,” said Sandy Preziuso, program coordinator for the Town of Tonawanda Senior Center.
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.
The transportation offered from the Tonawanda Senior Center in runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“It’s a great service,” Preziuso said. “Almost every day, it’s filled to capacity.”
Medical transportation also provides another chance for social engagement to people who can’t get out much.
The service offers precedent to non-emergency medical visits, but other errands are OK, such as grocery shopping, hair appointments and social engagements. Riders make an appointment a week in advance for pick up from Tonawanda or Kenmore, its service areas. When the rider is ready to go home, a call to the dispatch office sends a van out for pick-up. The center has three vans. The cost is $5 each way for a local trip, and $10 outside the area.
The cost for a taxi ride round trip can be around $30 or $40 — money that is needed to purchase medication or fill up a grocery cart for many seniors. Services such as Uber or Lyft may cost less; however, many older adults don’t have smartphones or feel unsafe using a ride summoning app.
Erie County residents 60 and older who have no other means of transportation can participate in the Going Places Transportation Program.
“Trying to get to the Metro bus stops is too much of a hardship for many of our riders,” said Jim Kelly, program organizer. “We provide curb to curb service.”
The program suggests a contribution of $3 per one-way trip or $6 per round-trip; wheelchair service is $8 per one-way trip or $16 per round-trip. Contributions are always voluntary, and no one is denied service for inability to pay. The rides are offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, except for postal holidays.
The program contracts with area senior centers and towns to offer the service, which operates on a first come, first served basis.
Riders much register in advance and schedule health-related trips two weeks ahead of the day they want a ride. Any non-medical trips should be scheduled one week ahead of the day desired.
Kelly said that the rides fill up quickly, a testament to how necessary senior rides have become.
For more information about senior rides, call Going Places Transportation Program at 716-858-7433 or 716-858-RIDE or 716-858-7433.
Erie County Department of Senior Services Information and Assistance unit can also advise on transportation 716-858-8526 or visit www2.erie.gov/seniorservices/index.php?q=transportation
To check with the Town of Tonawanda Senior Center, call 716- 875-1029.