Communities must assure all residents have access to transportation options

Posted on 01/27/22

With the price of used cars soaring and Transit Equity Day coming up on Feb. 4, this is the perfect time for La Crosse and communities across Wisconsin and the entire country to re-examine their public transportation offerings to make sure all their residents have access to safe, efficient, clean, and affordable transportation options.

Transit Equity Day is a collaboration of several organizations to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change.

One of our top priorities at AARP is working closely with local communities like La Crosse to help them become as livable and age-friendly as possible. Creating more transportation options for residents of all ages to feel comfortable traveling within their own communities is a huge component of that collaboration.

Many people take transportation for granted. But stop to consider that approximately one-third of Americans do not drive, including 1 in 5 people age 65-plus, many people with disabilities, others who cannot afford the purchase and upkeep of a vehicle, children too young to drive, and others by choice. This statistic alone should make us stop, think, and take another look at what our community has to offer.

Couple that with a recent Associated Press article pointing out that the average price of a used vehicle in the United States in November (according to Edmunds.com) was $29,011 – a dizzying 39% more than just 12 months earlier. And for the first time that anyone can recall, more than half of America's households have less income than is considered necessary to buy the average-priced used vehicle.

“The days when just about anyone with a steady income could wander onto an auto lot and snag a reliable late-model car or buy their kid's first vehicle for a few thousand dollars have essentially vanished,” the article said.

Yet we still largely design our transportation system around drivers. To achieve greater transportation equity, we need to pay more attention to the needs of these nondrivers.

Community leaders and residents owe it themselves to examine their current transportation options and consider possible solutions, such as dial-a-ride services, particularly in rural and suburban areas not well-served by regular public transportation. The main objective of dial-a-ride is to provide streamlined transportation solutions that match supply with demand efficiently.

We can also invest more in safe streets initiatives. Crossing the street shouldn’t have to mean crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. While unsafe streets disproportionately affect older people, safe streets are for everyone. It is critically important to adopt policies that ensure our streets are designed for all who use them – pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users of all ages. All of us need safe and efficient streets. That won’t happen without change.

Another area to examine is called “mobility management,” which is a concept that aims to to improve specialized transportation, particularly for veterans, older adults, people with disabilities, and individuals with lower incomes through a range of activities. It begins with a community vision in which the entire transportation network – public transit, private operators, cycling and walking, volunteer drivers, and others – works together with customers, planners, and stakeholders to deliver transportation options that best meet the community's needs.

Autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) are often considered a panacea for an aging America, but much more attention is needed to design these for the hardest-to-serve groups.

In short, no options should be off the table for consideration when it comes to improving, expanding and creating community transportation options. We hope all your readers will join us in recognizing Transit Equity Day and seeing the importance of this issue for all of us as we age.

In La Crosse, the local organizing committee has planned a full week of activities:

  • MTU fares will be free from 1/31 through 2/4.
  • Monday morning, January 31st- Press event at the Transit Center
  • Displays at the public library and at the Transit Center. The circulator bus runs between the two locations people are encouraged to visit both by using the free circulator bus.  The Transit Center display will include information about a book written by a local union leader about the local public transportation union
  • The local coalition is collecting rider stories online and on paper.
  • Some elected officials are hosting a ride with constituents.

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