The recent Older Adult Transportation Summit (convened Tuesday, Sept. 20) shed a bright light on the challenges facing the Island’s older adult drivers as they attempt to navigate the Island using alternate forms of transportation.
Nearly 100 Islanders gathered — in person or by Zoom technology — for the program held at the M.V. Film Center. There were a number of speakers who shared tales of their challenges seeking and using alternatives to driving themselves. Senior service and alternative transportation providers exchanged information and updates on pilot programs underway to address the transportation needs of older adults.
Dukes County has the commonwealth’s second highest percentage of older adults. Based on a Healthy Aging M.V. survey in 2020, a third of our population is 65 years of age or older. And 90 percent of those surveyed told us that they are still driving themselves as their primary form of transportation.
The lack of alternative transportation options (to driving oneself) for older adults is a pressing problem. The lack of a full complement of fit-for-purpose transportation options result in reduced access to healthcare, increased isolation, and the inability to engage in what our Island offers, including visits to a Council on Aging, cultural events, and accessing the Post Office or grocery store.
The mission of the coalition, founded in 2021, is to ensure that there are adequate — and affordable — options for both on-Island enrichment and essential (medical) transportation needs for older adults, as well as off-Island medical transport.
Currently, there are four pilot programs underway helping to alleviate the situation: the Taxi Program at Island Elder Housing, which transports older adults to medical appointments and weekly trips to the Food Pantry; the Council on Aging Van Sharing shopping shuttles, on a fixed loop of Post Office, pharmacy, and grocery store, the MV Center for Living program, which provides rides to and from the Center for Living; and GoGoGrandparent, an on-demand concierge service connecting older adults with Uber and Lyft drivers on the Island.
Is this enough? Of course not. Is it a beginning? For sure.
Step 1 to solving the problem is making sure that older adults and their family and friends who care about their well-being are aware of the alternatives available now.
A new printed directory, “On the Go: Safe Rides for Older Riders,” was shared publicly for the first time at the summit, and will be distributed at many public locations across the Island. It includes information on all transportation alternatives on- and off-Island, including a contact phone number for each option.
Step 2 is encouraging older adults to try out these pilot programs available now to ensure that older adults have transportation options when needed for essential and enrichment travel on- and off-Island.
Step 3 is to continue to collaborate across organizations to identify fit-for-purpose transportation solutions for our growing older adult population, especially for off-Island medical transportation. Did you know that older adults are forecast to take more than 7,000 trips off-Island in 2022 to obtain healthcare?
In addition to Healthy Aging M.V., M.V. Community Foundation, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, coalition member organizations include the M.V. Center for Living, Island Elderly Housing, Island Grown Initiative, M.V. Community Services, M.V. Hospital, the Island’s Councils on Aging, Steamship Authority, the Vineyard Transit Authority, Vineyard Village at Home, the Visiting Nurses Association of M.V., and the YMCA.
Cindy Trish is the executive director of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard.