Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am Bernice Shepard and I serve on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Retired Persons. The Association appreciates this opportunity to testify before you on the important role federal transit programs can play in helping older persons maintain their independence in the community.
Mobility is a critical determinant of the quality of life for older persons. Reliable transportation is essential to being well fed, being able to visit friends and family, and getting to the doctor, shopping, and community activities. In many cases, it is literally a lifeline to the world outside the confines of an older individual's house or apartment. Assuring viable transportation options for older persons will be a significant challenge for policy makers as the number of persons entering the prime of life swells in the years ahead. Particular attention must be paid to the needs of those over 85, the fastest growing and most frail segment of the older population.
Today's older generation is the first cohort to have relied on the automobile almost exclusively from the time they were old enough to obtain their driver's licenses. As they adapt to physical and cognitive changes, more and more of these individuals find they must make the wrenching decision to give up their licenses completely or gradually to restrict their driving. Yet few alternative transportation options exist to help non-drivers meet the transportation needs they were accustomed to filling themselves. Public transportation is very limited in suburbs, where over 40 percent of older persons live and which were designed for active residents with automobiles. In rural areas, where 27 percent of older persons live, public transportation is even more scarce.
The numbers of older non-drivers are increasing. According to a new AARP study, about 25 percent of people age 75 and over no longer drive. Other studies show that this number may be even greater. For these individuals, personal travel is severely restricted -- they average only two trips out of their home per week. Most non-drivers rely on family members and friends for rides, yet they limit their requests for fear of being a burden. As an 83-year old Houston woman said in a recent newspaper article, "There are so many little things you can't do. And I feel so bad asking. I don't ask anyone to take me to the library. I feel like that's a pleasure." Driving cessation was even found to be associated with an increase in depressive symptoms in a sample of New Haven elderly in another recent study.
Limited income also restricts driving. The cost of buying a vehicle and paying for insurance, repairs and maintenance can be prohibitive for many. The average cost of owning and operating a 1991 mid-size vehicle was about $4,000 in 1993, representing 25 percent of the median elderly household income for that year. Transit can play an essential role in alleviating the social isolation that so often afflicts non-drivers.
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) broke new ground by establishing a broader, more balanced view of the nation's transportation needs in the post-Interstate era. ISTEA recognized that the mobility requirements of a diverse population cannot be met with a one-size-fits-all approach. This is demonstrated by its emphasis on local decision making and public participation in the planning process, and by its flexible funding provisions. Transportation policy should be evaluated according to its ability to provide safe and appropriate transportation for individuals of all abilities throughout the lifespan. ISTEA provided the framework to make this possible.
The Section 5310 program (formerly Section 16 (b)(2)), which primarily provides capital assistance to nonprofit agencies, serves a vitally important role in providing transportation for older persons and persons with disabilities in areas where public transportation services are inadequate or unavailable. In 1995, aging agencies or the service providers with whom they contract supplied almost 40 million trips to seniors. These providers rely heavily on Section 5310 for capital assistance.
AARP supports retaining Section 5310 as currently structured in ISTEA. In particular, we support provisions that promote the coordination of transportation services. One of these provisions allows public bodies (with state approval) to receive Section 5310 funds if they coordinate transit services for both the elderly and persons with disabilities. This arrangement can improve service available to both groups. The number of public bodies receiving Section 5310 funds doubled in 1996, amounting to 17 percent of all recipients.
Another provision promotes coordination by allowing nonprofit recipients to purchase services from a local transit provider. We support the flexibility this gives to the grant recipient and the opportunity it provides to broaden service to both the elderly and persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, only three states used this option in 1996. The reasons for this low usage should be explored so that any unforeseen barriers may be eliminated.
The Association is concerned about the Administration's proposal to allow unrestricted transfer of funds from the Section 5310 program to other formula grant programs at any point in the program year, rather than only during the last 90 days, as is currently the case. While promoted as a flexibility measure, this proposal could divert needed resources away from a population already inadequately served.
Older people have a strong interest in rural transit. More than one-third of rural transit riders are older persons (compared with seven percent of transit riders nationally). Rural riders are also disproportionately female and disabled. According to a 1994 study, 14 percent of trips in rural areas were for medical purposes and 17 percent were related to human services programs, among which over half were nutrition programs. Transit in rural areas is woefully inadequate. About 40 percent of rural Americans have no access to public transit.
The Section 5311 program (formerly Section 18) provides capital and operating assistance to transit providers in rural areas. AARP supports retaining Section 5311 and opposes any reformulation of its program structure and related programs that might diminish transit providers' effectiveness in helping to alleviate the severe isolation faced by many rural elderly. AARP also supports the valuable work of the Rural Transit Assistance Program. RAP has played a vital role in disseminating information and providing training and technical assistance to help small, rural transit providers make the most of their limited resources.
AARP strongly supports the continuation, and strengthening of, the mandate in ISTEA for the coordination of transportation programs and services that receive federal funds. The goal of coordination is to maximize use of federal resources for the benefit of those who require mobility assistance. This is particularly critical in the current climate of budgetary constraint while demand for service is increasing. Recent coordination meetings conducted jointly by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Transportation brought together senior-level human service and transportation officials in nine federal regions throughout the country, resulting in the first significant actions toward coordination for many states.
AARP believes that the opportunities for real mobility independence are greatest when there is a match between the rider's individual need and the appropriate transportation resource. Such an alignment can only be achieved if there is coordination among all those who determine how those resources are used -federal, state, and regional agencies, and transportation and human services providers.
AARP supports the continuation of federal support for transportation research that is being conducted at university transportation centers. This research is vital to finding ways to maximize independent and safe mobility for older Americans who may have to reduce or cease driving. Valuable research veins include how intelligent transportation systems can enhance transit use for older persons, what kinds of transportation alternatives are likely to assure vital connections to the communities in which individuals are aging, and ways to increase personal safety when using public transportation -- all of these are crucial to the ability of older persons to maintain independence as they age. The existing university research infrastructure must be preserved in order to retain and expand expertise and knowledge in this area.
In addition, we encourage the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) to continue its important work in providing transit providers, planners and policy makers with the underlying data and analysis that can help them to improve transit systems for consumers. Older persons could derive great benefit if TCRP could embark on a future project focused on how to forge a stronger link between transit and older people.
AARP also supports the vital contributions the Community Transportation Assistance Project has made in providing information, technical assistance and training on accessibility, coordination and other issues to human service transit operators.
Transit can play a critical role in providing transportation choices to older Americans, particularly to the growing number of non-drivers among them. ISTEA provides a strong framework for transportation choices based on individual needs throughout the lifespan. AARP strongly urges the Committee to retain the Sections 5310 and 5311 programs and to continue to promote coordinated transportation services in the reauthorization of the federal mass transit program.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Bernice Shepard and I serve on the
Board of Directors of the American Association of Retired Persons. The Association
appreciates this opportunity to testify before you on the important role federal transit
programs can play in helping older persons maintain their independence in the
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