A Caregiver's Guide to Transportation Services

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What they do

A number of public and private groups or organizations provide transportation -- often door-to-door -- for older adults and people with disabilities.

Depending on locale, flexibility in scheduling, and ability to travel independently, many people find their transportation needs can be met by paratransit services, local mass transit, senior transport programs, or other transportation services. As an added incentive to passengers, many of these services offer discounts to frequent riders, older adults, and those with disabilities or low incomes.

How they help

For older adults who are no longer able to drive safely and can't easily get a ride with friends or family, transportation services enable them to get to doctor appointments, see friends and family, go to religious services, shop, eat out, and stay connected to the world.

Paratransit services

Paratransit services provide cars, vans, or buses to pick up and drop off individuals at their destinations; most offer door-to-door assistance and wheelchair-accessible vehicles. These services are generally available for individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system without help because of a physical or mental impairment.

  • What they cost: Fares vary among communities and providers but are usually equivalent to regular bus services. Some providers offer discounts to frequent riders, and some communities provide free or low-cost passes for disabled or elderly residents.

  • How to get started: Some services require riders or their caregivers to complete a particular form or provide specific medical certification before they'll be accepted.

You can locate paratransit services in a number of ways:

  • The American Public Transportation Association provides links to some paratransit options in its listing of local and state transit services.

  • Though it's not available everywhere, a growing number of communities provide information about local public transportation, including paratransit, to those who call 511.

  • Search the Internet under paratransit and the name of your loved one's community.

Senior transport and rideshare services

Some groups, notably those that provide services enabling older adults to age at home in the community, offer free transportation to those who qualify. Many are staffed by volunteers and sponsored by community, religious, or nonprofit organizations. Some limit the number of rides provided to any one person each month, and most require advance notice for scheduling.

  • What they cost: Although many are free, others encourage donations from those who are able to give. Still others charge $5 to $10 per ride within a designated distance, or a fee based on miles traveled.

  • How to get started: Check the local telephone book or search online using the term senior services; or contact local religious groups, starting with your own house of worship if you have one. Or try the nearest Area Agency on Aging; most can provide referrals to local free transit or rideshare services.

Clinic and hospital transport services

Some medical facilities offer transportation between home and the clinic or hospital to those receiving inpatient, outpatient, or other treatments. Services are offered based on availability at any given date and time, so this option may be most appropriate for those who have alternative transportation sources to use as backup. And most such services require scheduling several days to a week in advance.

  • What they cost: These services are usually free.

  • How to get started: To find out whether such free services exist in your area, contact the particular clinic or hospital in which the patient will be receiving care.

Veterans' transport services

Some centers, hospitals, and clinics run by local Veterans Health Administrations offer limited transportation services to those receiving care, with a limited number of daily pickups, usually originating from central spots within the community. This option is best suited to those who are able to plan in advance for appointments and negotiate basic transactions on their own. Advance reservations are required, and most facilities don't allow family members or friends to ride along. For most services, riders must also be able to enter and exit vehicles with limited assistance; wheelchair accommodations must be arranged in advance.

  • What they cost: These services are usually free.

  • How to get started: You can find contact information for a particular facility through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Local mass transit services

Don't overlook bus and other mass transit services. Most vehicles are equipped with lifts or lowering ramps to accommodate riders in wheelchairs or on scooters and those with limited mobility. However, the amount and type of additional assistance provided may depend on the particular service provider, or even on the individual driver on duty.

  • What they cost: Fares vary widely by locale, typically ranging from 50¢ to $4 per ride. Frequent riders, adults over a certain age, people with disabilities, and Medicare cardholders often qualify for reduced fares.

  • How to get started: Try these local services:

    • The American Public Transportation Association provides links to many local and state transit services.

    • Though not available everywhere, a growing number of communities provide information about local public transportation to those who call 511.

    • Look for the websites for state department of transportation offices to find information about local bus services. You can usually find the sites by entering the state name and department of transportation in the search box.

    • Look in the Yellow Pages under bus lines -- the listing should include both local and regional transit systems.

Taxi services

Those who live in cities or larger metropolitan areas who are unable to drive but can negotiate basic transactions on their own may get the help they need from standard taxi services that pick up and drop off passengers at specific locations on call.

  • What they cost: Rates vary by locale and company but range from an initial set charge of $1.75 to $4, plus a per-mile charge of 30¢ to 90¢. However, cab companies within many communities offer taxi scrip or coupons that older adults can use like cash to pay for fares and tips.

  • How to get started: To find this form of transportation, do an Internet search on taxi service and your loved one's locality -- or look in the Yellow Pages of the local telephone book under taxi. For information on local scrip programs, search the Internet for your locale and taxi scrip.

Be sure to see these helpful related links:

Caring Checklist: What to Ask When You Call a Mass Transit Service

Caring Checklist: What to Ask When You Call a Paratransit Service

Barbara Kate Repa

Barbara Kate Repa, a lawyer and journalist, has devoted her career to editing and writing about legal issues for consumers. See full bio