With Few Transit Options, Seniors at Risk of Being Stuck at Home, Study Says

Older Americans are at risk of being stuck in isolation at home as baby boomers continue to "age in place" in suburbs with limited public transit, according to a report issued Tuesday by a national transportation coalition.

More than 15.5 million people 65 or older will live in communities with poor or no public transit by 2015, Transportation for America estimated in its study, which ranked areas on their public transit access for seniors.

The Bay Area ranked highest in the nation for public transit, but even this region is not immune from mobility problems for seniors, according to the report titled "Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options."

An estimated 135,000 Bay Area seniors will live in places with little or no access to public transit by 2015, a 38 percent increase from 2000, the report said.

"The baby boom generation grew up and reared their own children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would be able to drive an automobile," said John Robert Smith, co-chairman of Transportation for America. "What happens when people in the largest generation ever, with the longest predicted life span ever, outlive their ability to drive for everything?"

The Bay Area had three of the four highest ranked metropolitan areas in the nation for public transit access for seniors in places with 1 million to 3 million residents.

Highest rated was a combination of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, where 12 percent of seniors will be in areas with poor transit by 2015. Santa Clara County ranked second with 15 percent of its seniors living in areas with poor transit.

Contra Costa and Alameda counties combined to rank fourth -- just behind Miami -- with 18 percent of seniors living in areas with poor transit by 2015, the study concluded.

Limited transit access threatens to isolate seniors from friends, family, recreation, health care and shopping.

The problem, the study says, will only worsen if Congress adopts proposals to allocate public transit a smaller share of federal gas tax dollars in the reauthorization of the omnibus transportation bill.

"We have a serious problem that would get much worse in providing transportation access to seniors," said Stuart Cohen, a Bay Area spokesman for the coalition. He is executive director of TransForm, an Oakland-based transit advocacy group.

Seniors are more dependent on transit because some don't drive. Some 12 percent of people 65 or older don't drive, and 31 percent don't drive by age 75, according to the AARP.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff . Read the Capricious Commuter at IBAbuzz.com/transportation .

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