A forum held by the Martha’s Vineyard Older Adult Transportation Coalition Tuesday night made attendees aware of a variety of existing and brand-new programs that get older adults on the Island where they need to go.
The coalition is a collective of Vineyard Councils on Aging, elderly housing organizations, local planning entities, and pretty much any group involved with supporting older adults on Martha’s Vineyard. At the forum held at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, a number of older community members shared their stories and their concerns regarding transportation issues. Heads of Island elder support organizations were also present to discuss the options for providing additional transportation opportunities to older adults.
Tristan Israel, a longtime Vineyard Haven select board member who recently retired, said he is turning 74, and has to renew his license, which he has been dreading due to the need for a vision test. In order to get to the forum that evening, he said he had to walk down his road near the Tashmoo overlook, go all the way to the park and ride, then take a shuttle to the Steamship Authority terminal in order to walk to the film center. “I just started to wonder if in a few more years I would be able to navigate this the way I did today,” Israel said. “I can do it today, but I see my walking days are going to be limited down the road.”
Lyndsay Famariss, an administrator for the Edgartown Council on Aging, announced a recently established shopping shuttle that was piloted in the spring. Through a partnership with the Vineyard Transit Authority, the council had access to a minivan, which Famariss said was like winning the lottery. “It was such a huge step in the right direction for us, to have a van that is already set up for our use, specifically,” Famariss explained. The council went to the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation to request seed money to get the transportation program up and running. Now, two staff members at the council are trained as drivers, and another volunteer is also trained.
The shopping shuttle is available to take council members to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the Post Office, and pretty much anywhere they make a request ahead of time for. According to Famariss, the shuttle idea started out as a shuttle for folks who were interested in council on aging programming. That shuttle turned out to be a big hit, Famariss said, and now the shopping shuttle is looped in with that support system, so that anyone who wants to stop to pick up a medication or some groceries can do so on the way to Council on Aging programming.
Famariss stressed that by offering transportation to three people at a time, it’s not just helping those three older adults — it’s helping the family, friends, and caregivers of those people. “It means our guests don’t have to ask their friends or their spouses to take them, and it’s free of charge,” Famariss said.
Leslie Clapp, executive director for the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, said the Supportive Day Program the center offers is a lifeblood program that provides socialization and enriching opportunities for older adults. “Monday through Friday, we have anywhere from 15 to 18 people come and spend the day with us,” Clapp said. Having partnered with the VTA, the center now operates a VTA lift van — they’ve hired a driver, and even Clapp is trained to drive, along with several other staff members. The van transports Center for Living members to their day programming, but Clapp wants to add another element to the transportation opportunity by setting a day during the week where that same van would bring members to the Post Office, the library, the grocery store, or wherever they need to go. “If we can find another driver, we can do this … this gives people independence; they don’t have to rely on friends or something that’s too expensive, like a taxi, just to get their shopping done,” Clapp explained.
Paul Doherty, vice president of Vineyard Village at Home and volunteer transportation driver, said the organization offers a lift program that costs $475 per year, or $600 per year for a couple. “That sounds like a lot of money, but if you think about how often this service is used — one person who used it the most pre-pandemic did 228 runs, which comes out to about two dollars and some change per ride,” Doherty said.
Cindy Trish, executive director of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard, said the Go Go Grandparents rideshare program serves as a concierge service where older adults can call a toll-free number directly and speak to a live operator who can connect to an Uber or Lyft driver. Trish said the program started in July 2021, and in the first year served more than 75 people with over 800 rides. Trish explained that Go Go Grandparents requires drivers to have special certification, and trips can be tracked by ridesharing companies in real time to ensure the safety of older adults.