Transportation for senior citizens in St. Albert who no longer drive is a growing problem and will only be exacerbated as the baby boomer population continues to age, council heard Monday night.
Dr. Bonnie Dobbs of the Medically At-Risk Driver Centre (MARD) at the University of Alberta presented the preliminary results of a series of focus groups she conducted last November and December with groups of St. Albert seniors. Citizens participated in one of four sessions — for seniors living in lodges, seniors living in the community, children providing rides for their parents and alternate service providers. All focus groups took place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 last year.
Dobbs told council that seniors and those approaching the age of 55 now make up a significant percentage of the community, at approximately 45 per cent. Given those individuals will have their licences revoked at some point, or will stop driving of their own initiative, St. Albert and other communities must have other means of transportation in place to help seniors get around.
“It’s a problem today and it’s going to be a significant problem in 30 years,” Dobbs said. “The existing system is accommodating the needs of some seniors but there are seniors with unmet needs.”
According to focus group results, there are many barriers to seniors’ transportation. Public transit and handibus service seldom go where seniors want, especially handibus trips into Edmonton to see medical professionals. Though seniors might move to St. Albert, they keep their doctors in Edmonton because of long wait lists.
“The lack of handibus service to Edmonton was cited,” Dobbs said.
Seniors find taxis unclean, smoky, too expensive and their drivers insensitive to their needs. Lodge buses do not allow for spontaneous trips or trips with multiple stops. Neither do alternative for-profit service providers like Driving Miss Daisy, with whom rides must be scheduled in advance. Seniors also perceive the cost of using for-profit service providers as a barrier, even though using them would likely cost less than the estimated $12,000 annually it takes to operate a vehicle.
“They can take those funds and put them into a transportation account and use for-profit services at a lower cost than owning a vehicle,” Dobbs said.
Suggestions for improvement included coordinating transportation services, allowing a smart card system across multiple providers and subsidizing seniors’ transportation through vehicle registration renewal fees or tire taxes, Dobbs said. There is also potential for collaboration with medical providers, such as primary care networks, as well as business.
“We know the demographics are changing and participants said we need our council, we need our jurisdictions to develop more models,” Dobbs said.
Her final report will be completed in the spring.