Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stranding Seniors

MBTA Ride Van

I’ve written before about transportation for seniors and the disabled.  Another story came out over the holidays.

The Globe profiles one Marblehead resident:

It’s the spur-of-the-moment trips that June Casler misses most, the spontaneous decision to catch a 7 p.m. movie or to pick up a coveted book at the library. The octogenarian hung up her car keys for good when she moved from western New York to Marblehead in June because she felt that negotiating busy, unfamiliar streets could be distracting and dangerous.

Casler has since discovered that the local Council on Aging van doesn’t run nights or weekends and requires 24-hour advance notice. She doesn’t want to burden her son and daughter-in-law, who live nearby, for rides during the van’s off hours. But neither does she want to end up like one of her 90-year-old friends who could barely see but was still behind the wheel - until her family called police to intercede.

We have been heading for a collision for some time.  We’ve built our society around the car and deemphasized other options so that the car and its needs have become a massive hidden subsidy imposed on cities, towns and the state.

At the same time, the cohort of seniors that remember life without easy transport—the car life—is dwindling.  My late mom remembers streetcars, trains, walking, buses and even horses.  Seniors today and those soon-to-be-seniors have few such memories and baby boomers have none:  They have always enjoyed life with the car.

I wonder, as well, if the “nuclear family” philosophy of the boomers has contributed.  I heard any number of stories in high school of students reaching 18 and their parents showing them the door, politely or not. 

How can one square this with the sentiment I’ve also heard over and over, that “your kids owe you” to look after you in your old age?  Many adult children are scattered across the country, since mobility is valued, preferred and even necessary for some.

There will be another attack of outrage when a senior is involved in a traffic accident, but I fear we’re not going to do much.  Easy to be mad at some poor 80-year old that runs down a kid, but hard to admit that your city’s development philosophy is flawed or that we’ve been trying to segregate our seniors for 50 years and it doesn’t work. 

Real resolution of this would be expensive.  So we won’t see progress.

Truthfully, seniors have every incentive to dodge the eye doctor and drive no matter what.  It’s the only way they’re really independent.

Ms. Casler took the high road;  I just wonder if she’s regretting it.

No comments: