DOWNTOWN — A recent survey released by WISE & Healthy Aging suggests that Santa Monica may need to alter the way it provides transportation to its most senior residents to get them out of the house and remain active in the community.
The survey, conducted between Aug. 27 and Nov. 5 with 369 respondents, asked seniors aged 80 and above how often and for what purpose they used Dial-a-Ride, a service that allows seniors to arrange for rides to the grocery store, medical appointments or other necessities.
It also queried how often seniors used the after-hours taxi, a service that picks up after Dial-a-Ride ends for the day.
Results showed that many seniors don’t use local transportation options like Dial-a-Ride or the after-hours taxi as much as they could, largely because they’re unfamiliar with the programs.
Instead, they end up taking public transportation, driving their own car or getting a ride from someone else.
Over half of Santa Monica’s octogenarians didn’t know that the after-hours option was available, and just under 50 percent of those above the age of 90 were unaware that they could arrange for a cab at night twice a month if need be.
That was huge for staff at WISE & Healthy Aging, who plan to ramp up efforts to familiarize aging Santa Monicans with the transportation options that are available to them, said Grace Cheng Braun, president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging.
Snagging a spot in a Dial-a-Ride van or the after-hours taxi takes some advance preparation. The person setting up the ride has to be a member, and in many cases the request must be made at least two days in advance for either service.
Trips also cost 50 cents one-way for the Dial-a-Ride van to city meetings, and $3 each way for the taxi service, according to a flyer.
While it’s important for seniors to know their options, where and when those modes of transportation are available make a huge difference in the likelihood that a resident will take advantage of them.
Most of the almost 400 seniors polled reported that they would like to use the services to attend daytime group activities like movies or communal meals, Braun said, and many chose not to use the taxi service because they had no desire to go out that late at night.
On the other hand, 51 percent of respondents between 80 and 89 expressed an interest in once or twice-monthly excursions.
This fall alone, seniors have had the option to go on six after-hours excursions to restaurants and new film releases like “Argo,” “Life of Pi” and “Skyfall,” activities that Braun describes as “successful.”
While most Santa Monicans between the ages of 80 and 89 manage to get out of the house more than five times a week, that number drops sharply in the 90-year-old set.
That’s less than one might expect if the seniors are doing occasional trips to the grocery store, hair cuts, regular social activities like card games and other daily chores, Braun said.
Still at issue are the number of seniors that rely on themselves for transportation.
“I think what always surprises us is that there are people who are driving who are elderly,” Braun said.
According to a study conducted by the National Transportation and Safety Board, seniors can have difficulty behind the wheel because of naturally slower reaction time, problems with vision, memory and posture.
The same study notes that by 2030, seniors will account for almost 19 percent of total vehicle miles driven in the United States, and that in the same year, the number of drivers above the age of 85 will be four times what it was in 1998.
Successful senior transportation options tend to be those that include client outreach, adequate funding of the program, effective use of volunteer workers and convenience to the seniors, according to the study.
Providing adequate options for seniors that really meets their needs is critical, said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
“For seniors who no longer drive, city-provided mobility services represent freedom and the ability to fully participate in the community and social activities,” McKeown said. “There’s more to senior life than visiting your doctor. Understanding the importance of mobility services for our aging population, we must continue to explore how to better serve seniors.”