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Senior Transportation Upgrades (Video)

The Montgomery County Council’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee and its Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee are considering recommendations that could improve services that help seniors get around the County.

The T and E Committee, which is chaired by Roger Berliner and includes Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, and the HHS Committee, which is chaired by George Leventhal and includes Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice, recently met to analyze a report from Elaine Binder, a senior fellow to the Council who has been tasked with reviewing current senior transportation programs and making recommendations to improve those programs.

The discussion focused on how to help the nearly 120,000 County residents who are 65 and older “age in place” if they choose to do so. It is estimated that this population will increase to more than 156,000 by 2020. Having adequate transportation assistance is a key concern, but the worksession stressed that even in a county that is considered to have very good public transportation options, those services, in many cases, are not adequate for some seniors.

“We want Montgomery County to be a great place to live for older residents and younger residents alike,” said Councilmember Riemer. “The aging of our population is a profound change that we must respond to by altering our mix of services, and the proposal for a mobility management system for seniors is right on target.”

Councilmember Riemer advocated for the creation of a senior fellow position at the County Council, which was funded in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Mr. Riemer then worked with his colleagues to recruit Ms. Binder to the position, with the goal of reviewing policy issues affecting senior transportation and making recommendations that the Council and Executive Branch could pursue.

“This report shows that limited transportation presents a serious barrier for older adults living in Montgomery County,” said Councilmember Berliner. “By enhancing different transportation options, we can break down that barrier and help empower our seniors to age in place confidently.”

The report noted that although the County has several transportation options for seniors, and that most are at little cost to the users, the transportation services are not necessarily coordinated with each other. The report also noted that not all possibly available services are incorporated in the County’s senior transportation program.

The report recommends establishing a coordinator for senior transportation as the Mobility Management Administrator. Other recommendations include expanding volunteer driver programs, exploring innovative approaches to transportation to senior centers and shopping, development of neighborhood shuttle programs and exploring fee-based solutions using private providers. The report also recommends that improvements are needed in publicizing the transportation options available to seniors.

“It is documented that isolation may lead to depression and overall decline for seniors who do not have access to transportation,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “Not being able to get to a grocery store can lead to an unhealthy diet and lack of transportation access to health care can lead to more serious problems—many of which could be preventable. These are among the most evident reasons that our County needs to address the issue of improving transportation for seniors.”

The Council will use the report to work with various divisions of the Executive Branch to see what improvements can be made quickly and on a longer-term basis.

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