San Diego resident Anne Nelson decided not to wait until she was a senior to check out public transportation.
Four years ago, while still working as a school secretary, she bought a bus pass. Now, in retirement, she's such a big fan of public transportation that she endorses it to other older people as a volunteer Transit Buddy for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development System.
"I advocate that people use public transportation at least once in a while before they're told they can't drive anymore," she says. "That's a really traumatic time for people who haven't thought about it ahead of time."
While many seniors keep driving for many years, it's a good idea to have a backup plan. Not enough people look ahead, says Heather Menninger, a transportation consultant who works with communities to solve mobility problems. This comes through in a survey Ms. Meninger's company conducted for several southern California counties. "The data shows that seniors as a group don't plan for giving up their licenses," she says. "They don't seek out what resources are out there."
Rather than relying on retirees to jump on the bandwagon, Menninger says, "Transit people need to work aggressively at showing what they can do, to be more creative in reaching out to this population."
This not only is important on a humanitarian basis, but also as a cost-saving measure. When gaps exist in public transit, they must be filled, often with expensive, customized, one-rider-at-a-time services dictated by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Getting the general public to use mass transit is hard enough, and getting seniors over the hump is often harder still.
"Friends tell me they had bad experiences with public transportation maybe 25 or 30 years ago, possibly in another city," says Ms. Nelson. "They think it's still like that, and haven't used public transportation since."
She is convinced that most people who try it will like it, pointing to bus trips as relaxing opportunities to get out without worrying about parking, feeding meters, traffic congestion, or angry drivers.
It helps that Nelson lives in a community that actively promotes ridership among seniors.