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Viewpoint

The key is to get folks involved

We take it for granted, hopping into the car and heading to the grocery store, to work or to church. Getting a car and license is part of rite of passage as a teenager; giving up the car and license as an older person symbolizes another kind of passage: A loss of independence that most of us are reluctant to give up.

In our rural part of New Hampshire, mobility is key to quality of life and independence. For older adults, not being able to drive necessitates a dependence on others. Many older people lament that being unable to drive means they can “get where they need to go, but not where they want to go.” Providing transportation for an older family member may be the first step on the road to caregiving, but taking time away from work to help may not always be feasible, and many families live at a distance. Seniors and individuals with disabilities are affected disproportionately by the rural nature of the Monadnock region and the lack of transportation options. By 2030, nearly half a million Granite staters, or almost one-third of the state’s population, will be over age 65, according to the N.H. Center for Public Policy. More than 20 percent of this “silver tsunami” don’t drive, according to the AARP; men outlive their driving days by seven years and women by 10 years, creating a growing population of those who are depending on others to get around.

As New Hampshire ages, both informal and formal care-giving systems will become increasingly important to support elders. Organizations such as Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services bring many services to the home, but there is still a great need for transportation to get people to needed medical appointments, to the pharmacy and other necessities.

We all should be concerned, however, that an accident or illness could at any moment put any one of us into a situation where community transportation is needed to access the basic necessities of daily living.

The Contoocook Valley Transportation Company and the N.H. West Chapter of the Red Cross support volunteer networks of drivers and a Ride Share program that are options right now. Are we willing to get involved and offer a seat in our car to an older person, or someone with a disability in our town who needs a ride? Do we have room in our car for an older neighbor to get to a concert in the evening? Can we change our spur of the moment thinking to planning ahead to offer someone else a ride? Are there ways that volunteer networks can link in with vans and buses that are going to medical centers or shopping areas so that economies of scale can be achieved? While the goal is getting an older person to their destination, another goal is achieved with volunteer networks: social time spent in the car, visiting and getting to know a neighbor.

Volunteer networks like the Red Cross and the Transportation Company need infrastructure and this support comes primarily from federal funding, funneled through the N.H. Department of Transportation. Our Executive Councilors are holding public hearings around the state about the 2015 – 2024 Ten Year Transportation Plan, which includes very modest support for transit services, including those for elders and those with disabilities. A hearing will be held on Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town House in Peterborough for the public to comment about roads and bridges, but also the concerns citizens have about how we plan for those with transportation needs.

On the local front, shaping the future for transportation alternatives involves planning for what we would like to see for the next decade and beyond. The Monadnock Region Transportation Management Association is a group of diverse individuals and groups that “envisions citizens of all ages in the Monadnock Region moving around conveniently and safely, with or without personal automobiles.” The strategies include ridesharing and carpooling, bikes and buses, telecommuting and home delivery services. Strategies need energy, and Monadnock Region Transportation is interested in collaborating with other groups and individuals to “think outside the single-occupancy vehicle” when it comes to envisioning a better transportation future. Check out MonadnockTMA.org for more information about getting involved in this effort.

The question ultimately comes down to what do we want for ourselves, our friends and neighbors in the future, and how can we begin to shape that future today?

Susan Ashworth is director of Community Relations at Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services. She is a member of the Monadnock Region Transportation Management Association.

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