More seniors relying on transit to combat isolation, remain independent

Laketran has made no secret of its increasingly growing ridership over the last few years.

Combining that with Lake County’s growing senior population, the transit agency’s role continues to grow, with a simple concept such as transportation lending itself to address multiple community needs.

According to Laketran, to date, over 40 percent of seniors regularly experience loneliness. Senior isolation is poised to become one of the most serious health issues faced by the elderly with effects that can be felt physically, mentally and emotionally.

“We can slip behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive off without giving it much thought, but for a growing portion of the elderly population, once-routine outings, like going to the grocery store, for example, have become a challenge,” he said. “It’s a story we hear every day and it’s no surprise. Research tells us men tend to outlive their driving ability by about six years and women by about 10 years.”

Ridership on Dial-a-Ride, Laketran’s door-to-door, assisted transportation shared-ride service, has grown 18 percent over the past four years, due to the growing number of residents over the age of 60 — a sector making up 25 percent of Lake County’s population, and projected to grow to 34 percent by 2030.

Of the agency’s 750,000 annual trips, Dial-a-Ride provides 300,000 trips to seniors and people with disabilities. Trips to medical appointments for seniors has increased 53 percent, and work trips, often for people with disabilities, have gone up by 21 percent.

To the isolation issue, overlooked on a general scale, Capelle said that more importantly than providing thousands of trips, the agency, in addition, is able to “provide human connection.”

Wickliffe resident Sue Iacobucci, 80, no longer drives and uses a wheelchair. She visits the Willowick Senior Center three times a week to partake in ceramics and to medical appointments independently in Lake and Cuyahoga counties.

“I live with my daughter, but she works and cannot take me places during the day,” Iacobucci said, adding she’s been riding regularly for the last four years. “I would be stuck at home and not be able to get out if it wasn’t for Laketran, that’s just the truth and I’m able to go on my own. Getting out of the house to participate at the center means a lot to me and to a lot of other people who rely on the service of the bus.

“I feel safe when I ride and everyone’s very helpful,” she added. “And having that freedom is great because a lot of handicapped people have no other means to get out and be active. You’d be surprised how much that means to a senior. We enjoy seeing each other on the bus and getting to know each other. You make friends.

“None of that happens if you’re just at home alone, and we want that independence like everyone else.”

This year, Laketran and the Lake County commissioners launched a partnership to improve transportation access to senior centers in efforts to combat isolation and improve the health of seniors by providing free Dial-a-Ride service to area centers where seniors can get hot meals, exercise, socialize, and even learn new skills.

As a result of the partnership, ridership has increased by 27 percent since January.

“This (increase) shows how vital this service is to our community,” said Commissioner Jerry Cirino. “It is important to support our seniors with programs that allow them to maintain a healthy quality of life and to age in place with dignity and respect here in Lake County.”

According to a new AARP survey, three out of four adults age 50 and older want to stay in their homes as they age — and many seniors, especially those in Lake County’s fastest growing group of 75 years and older, rely on Dial-a-Ride to maintain their independence and continue to age in place.

Since Laketran started offering free rides to senior centers, 83-year-old Madison resident Irene McGovern, who is blind, visits the Madison Senior Center every day for the congregate meal and said she’s gained confidence in using Laketran. She now travels independently to other various locations.

Laketran’s drivers receive training to assist customers with hearing or visual impairments, and are also certified in CPR, first aid, disability sensitivity, maneuvering mobility devices, securement, and seat transfer. The agency’s fleet has various-sized vans and buses that accommodate wheelchairs and scooters.

Seniors and people with disabilities accounted for over 90,000 of the total 300,000 annual Local Routetrips in 2018. Laketran’s local route buses travel along Lake County’s major corridors with stops every quarter-of-a-mile.

Trips taken on Laketran’s local bus routes by senior citizens have grown 82 percent since 2015 and seniors and people with disabilities now make up nearly 30 percent of Laketran’s Local Route ridership.

Capelle believes the affordable fare, as well as the ability to travel without the need of an advance reservation which is required on Dial-a-Ride, is why more seniors are taking to local route service. He also noted local route buses are operated with low-floor vehicles that are equipped with handrails and an ADA ramp making them easily accessible and easy to board and ride using a mobility device.

Laketran also reserves the front seats on all their buses for seniors and people with disabilities.

John Sebring, who lives in Painesville, uses local routes daily, as he does not drive and only occasionally uses the Dial-a-Ride service. Sebring also uses Local Routes to stay active, utilizing the on-board bike racks to travel with his bike and ride to his final destinations.

Sebring, 61, has also embraced Laketran’s new mobile fare payment app, EZfare, which he said adds to the convenience of the service.

“The app makes it easier to pay bus fare in that I don’t have to worry about having the change needed,” he said. “I use all the local routes, but I use the No. 1 and the No. 3 Routes the most. I travel all over the county and I’ve been using Laketran for at least 10 years. It’s a very valuable service.”

Board President Brian Falkowski said the agency is glad more residents are relying on its services, adding that seniors make up a significant portion of the population.

“It is just the beginning of a span of 25-30 years where the baby boomer generation will demand more transportation assistance, and we need our seniors participating in our local economy,” he added. “Without Laketran, many seniors would lack independence, but with the continued support of our community we will be able to meet the growing demand.”