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As Minnesota boomers age, mobility options inadequate, says report

By 2015, more than 15 million Americans ages 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent, a new study shows. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation "ages in place" in suburbs or rural areas with few mobility options for those who do not drive.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuckwithout Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation.

The analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology evaluates metro areas within each of five size categories. It shows that in just four years, nearly a quarter million seniors in Minnesota cities - will live in neighborhoods with poor access to options other than driving.

Metro Atlanta ranks the worst for metro populations 3 million and over. Kansas City tops the list for metros of 1-3 million, followed by Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. In smaller areas like Hamilton, OH 100 percent of seniors will live without access to public transportation.

"The baby boom generation grew up and reared their 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, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of Transportation for America. "What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive for everything? That's one of the questions we set out to answer in this report."

"Our recent analysis confirms this trend in the Twin Cities. In Hennepin County for example, only 44 percent of existing senior apartment buildings are within walking distance of a daily bus route. In Anoka County, where a mere 9 percent of senior apartments have access to transit, the situation is already dire. It's time to better coordinate our transportation systems to address the future needs of the wave of senior citizens that are aging in place." Bill Neuendorf, Policy Director for TLC.

Such a small percentage of older American actually relocate that researchers already are seeing the emergence of so-called "naturally occurring retirement communities." That phenomenon is growing as baby boomers begin to turn 65. Today, 79 percent of seniors age 65 and older live in suburban or rural communities that are largely car-dependent.

"As my staff and I traveled around Minnesota on my Senior Listening Tour, we met with baby boomers all over the state who said that as they grow older, they depend more and more on public transportation," said Sen. Franken. "Unfortunately, this report suggests that in the coming years, far too many of our seniors will be stuck at home or will need to drive long distances because they lack access to transportation alternatives. We need to give Minnesota's senior citizens the transportation options they need to remain independent and enjoy their hard-earned retirement."

"The aging rural population is starting to explode, we are just seeing the beginnings of it," says Pam Smith, Marketing/Public Relations Coordinator of Arrowhead Transit, a nonprofit provider the report calls a model of best practices, using "effectively coordinated transportation services" which improves "service productivity and reduces costs by eliminating overlapping, duplicative and inefficient operations."

Without access to affordable travel options, seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age, research shows. As the cost of owning and fuelling a vehicle rises, many older Americans who can still drive nonetheless will be looking for lower-cost options.

"Our service area is almost all rural; little communities spread out and located away from everyday services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, or clinics. People want to stay in their homes but would be left without transportation services if Arrowhead Transit didn't exist. If funding is cut, services to our population might have to be cut," says Pam Smith.

"The transportation issues of an aging America are national in scope, and cash-strapped state and local governments will be looking for federal support in meeting their needs," John Robert Smith added. As Congress prepares this summer to adopt a new, long-term transportation authorization, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines policies to help ensure that older Americans can remain mobile, active and independent:

--Increase funding support for communities looking to improve service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;

--Provide funding and incentives for transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to engage in innovative practices;

--Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;

--Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to "flex" a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;

--Include a "complete streets" policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.

"We need to plan now for an aging population, said Tony Kellen, President of Minnesota Public Transit Association. "The number of Minnesotans aged 65 or older will grow dramatically in the next decade. Our transportation system must keep up with these changing demographics. For older Americans, many with limited incomes, affordable, reliable transportation options are essential. Transit service is a lifeline to the most basic of necessities for living independently."

For the full report, maps of the Twin Cities metro area and extended rankings: