Saying goodbye to driving

At some point I will consider stopping driving. I am not there yet, but sometimes traveling awawy from home poses such opportunities. I recently went to Houston for a family wedding. I was told that "you could not get around Houston without a car." I had no interest or intentions of renting a car. So I took a shuttle from the airport for $23 to downtown Houston, and later realized I could take a public bus back to the airport for only $4.50.

As we were driving into downtown, I saw the light rail and was told by the shuttle driver that "no one uses the light rail." However, within four hours of arriving, I walked two blocks to the light rail station and took the train seven stops and returned to my hotel. This was much to the surprise of my younger daughter - that I had accessed public transportation within hours of my arrival.

Granted, I had planned my trip and train stops were within 2-3 blocks from where I was headed. The next day I took another ride but found myself about 5-6 blocks from the train station. It was still a short walk and an easy ride for $1.25 each way.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at transportation options closer to home. The NJ Foundation for Aging worked with stakeholders to develop the report Safe Mobility At Any Age on community transportation options. We have also examined the cost of living for seniors across the state. Both initiatives estimated the transportation costs for a senior to operate a private car. National figures project that if a senior gives up the car, auto insurance, maintenance and gas costs, they would save significantly.

Now, we all know there are distany pockets where public transportation is severely limited. In some places these are insurmountable challenges, but they also represent opportunities. It is not easy to move from one's own car where you think you can control access to community services and friends. However, the costs and the comfort of safely arriving at your destination is also a consideration. So if I could get there by public transportation - why wouldn't I use it?

Grace Egan is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging.