America has long been a nation of drivers dependent on their own cars for transportation. Even after older people age out of driving, reliance on cars carries over. Seniors who don't drive themselves often like to be driven by friends and family.
But it's not just a matter of preference. It also may be necessary for seniors to go by car because they might not have many transportation alternatives.
Walking often isn't practical, even in urban areas, because distances may be too great. Roads often aren't designed to accommodate pedestrians. And in collisions at any speed, older pedestrians are far more likely than younger people to die (see "Vehicle speed and pedestrian age determine crash outcomes," May 13, 2000).
Mass transit might not help much, either. It favors the needs of commuters, not older people who no longer drive. Only 3 percent of seniors' trips are on mass transit, according to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey. Routes and schedules can be inconvenient, and the physical impairments that prevent driving or walking may make it impossible to use transit.
Other services include Dial-A-Ride and community ride-share programs. But these can be expensive to administer and aren't extensively used. They're not always convenient for older people because trips may be restricted to certain hours or purposes.
A program that has attracted attention is the Independent Transportation Network, a nonprofit membership service in Portland, Maine. Seniors pay in advance for rides by the mile anytime, day or night. Like a taxi service, members have the option to ride alone or share for a reduced fare. Cars may be traded in for mileage credits. Six years into operation, this enterprise is still relatively small. But it's viewed as a model, and there's interest in replicating it elsewhere.