KOHL, WYDEN INTRODUCE BILL TO IMPROVE PUBLIC TRANSIT PROGRAMS FOR SENIORS

Senators Will Work to Include Provisions in the Transportation Reauthorization Act


WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), introduced the Senior Transportation and Mobility Improvement Act. The billseeks to strengthen existing public transit programs for seniors and people with disabilities by giving states added flexibility to utilize their federal funds. The bill also expands program transparency through new reporting standards, enhances the planning and coordination process, provides technical assistance and seed grants to innovative community programs, and establishes a mobility management program for older adults and people with disabilities.

"America is unprepared to provide adequate transportation choices for our rapidly aging population," Kohl said. "There are few alternatives to driving, particularly in small towns and rural communities. As the number of older people rapidly increases, so will their mobility needs."

"Millions of senior Americans cannot access public transportation, often relying solely on driving as the primary way to see family, shop for groceries and visit the doctor," Wyden said. "For non-drivers, it becomes even harder as family, friends and neighbors shoulder the burden of transporting seniors around when they are able to get around at all. Increasing access to public transportation for seniors will give them the freedom and ability to take care of themselves they may not have ordinarily had."

More than one in five Americans age 65 and older do not drive due to health or other reasons. For seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive due to declines in health, more than half - or 3.6 million - stay home on any given day partially because they lack transportation options. Compared with older drivers, older non-drivers in the United States make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer shopping trips and visits to restaurants, and 65 percent fewer trips for social, family and religious activities. Alternatives to driving are particularly sparse in rural areas and small town communities.Without adequate transportation options, many seniors are at risk for increased isolation and may be unable to remain in their homes without access to outside assistance.

The Senior Transportation and Mobility Improvement Act would provide states with greater flexibility to use Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) Section 5310 program funds to assist with the costs of operating vehicles, such as insurance, rising fuel costs and driver compensation. The Section 5310 program provides formula grant funds to states to help non-profit organizations meet the transportation needs of the elderly where public transportation options are unavailable.

Public transportation trips by older and disabled non-drivers, including those under the Section 5310 program, totaled an estimated 43 million in 2009. The legislation would also expand the transparency of Section 5310 programs through new reporting standards and require that groups representing older adults and people with disabilities are included in the planning process and be given an opportunity to review and comment on how funds would be used within a state.

Finally, the bill would direct new funding to the National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST) in order to award a larger number of community seed grants to demonstrate creative and effective solutions to increasing mobility for older adults. It would also establish a Mobility Management program, which would determine the transportation needs of consumers and connect them with the best available transportation options in their respective communities.

The Senior Transportation and Mobility Improvement Act has been endorsed by: B'nai B'rith International, Easter Seals, Jewish Federations of North America, LeadingAge, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities, National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, National Council on Aging, OWL The Voice of Midlife and Older Women, Partners for Livable Communities, and Transportation for America. 

A summary of the bill follows:

 

Section 5310 Elderly and Disabled Program

 

  • Authorizes states to use up to 33 percent of any increase in its annual Section 5310 allocation for operating and maintenance needs after FY 2012.
  • Authorizes states to use their Section 5310 allocations to assist with the costs of operating vehicles or other capital assets acquired through the Section 5310 program at a 50 percent federal match.
  • Requires states to report annually to FTA how they plan to coordinate their Section 5310 program with transportation services offered under Title III of the Older Americans Act.
  • Expands the National Transit Database to require the program to track Section 5310 data on an annual basis, including the number of vehicles purchased and rides provided.

 

Metropolitan and Statewide Planning and Coordination

 

  • Strengthens the coordinated public transit human service transportation planning process by requiring that groups representing older adults and people with disabilities are included in the planning process, and that these groups are given an opportunity to review and commenton the final plan.

 

Technical Assistance and Mobility Management

 

  • Directs new funding ($11.5 million over two years) to the NCST to provide technical assistance to transit and human service organizations and disseminate best practices and test innovative and replicable approaches for addressing the mobility needs of seniors.
  • Establishes a supplemental FTA Mobility Management grant program ($8 million over two years) to connect older and disabled adults with the best available transportation options in their communities.

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