The Other Side of 50

Study looks at senior travel

By From page OSF9 | June 12, 2014

FAIRFIELD — A new Solano County plan looks at ways for seniors, people with disabilities and people who depend on buses, trains, paratransit and other forms of public transportation to get around the area more easily.

The Solano Transportation Authority has put together the Solano County Mobility Management Plan. The plan’s stated goal isn’t simply to present ideas, but to move toward having new services.

Four proposed services in particular emerged in the plan: A one-stop traveler call center, a countywide program to train seniors how to use buses, an older driver safety program and a countywide Americans With Disabilities Act eligibility program.

The Solano Transportation Authority is already moving to make the recommendations a reality. But fully realizing them could cost from $268,000 to $400,000 annually, according to the plan. The authority in 2012 approved spending $150,000 in state money on the plan.

Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls said transit funds and grants will provide enough money to run the programs for the next few years.

One-stop traveler call centers are common in other areas, the Mobility Management Plan stated. Callers typically ask where to catch the bus, how to transfer between different mass transit systems, how much fares cost and similar questions.

Existing call centers in the county provide transportation information, but no call center specializes in transportation, the plan said.

Not all transportation call centers are a success. The plan pointed out that San Joaquin County launched a center in 2008, but that this center never received more than 40 calls in a week and was discontinued after two years because of low usage.

“The target audience for the call center are seniors, persons with disabilities and persons with low incomes, which makes customer service standards critical,” the plan said. “Call center staff will need to be customer-service orientated and willing to go the extra mile.”

That means staff may have to repeat information more than once and mail out brochures and fliers and do research to answer callers’ questions, it said.

A local traveler call center with two full-time staff members would cost $130,000 to $191,000 annually, according to the Mobility Management Plan. Solano County will begin its call center by using the existing Solano Napa Commuter Information service.

Travel training programs can range from volunteers showing seniors how to ride the bus to a trained professional working one-on-one with a person who has cognitive disabilities. Solano County will try to find the right local fit.

Vacaville City Coach bus service already has a volunteer bus rider training program. Fairfield and Suisun Transit and SolTrans in Vallejo and Benicia are interested in having their own programs.

Seniors are a target audience for such efforts.

“They may need minimal familiarization with the system in order to overcome fear of riding the bus independently,” the Mobility Management Plan said. “Learning how the routes operate, how fares are paid, how transfers are made and other details may be all that is necessary to develop a successful bus riding experience.”

Mobility Management Plan recommendations range from having the Solano Transportation Authority help transit operators develop transit ambassador programs to developing a referral system to having travel training programs that help people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

A local travel training program could cost $125,000 to $190,000 annually, the Mobility Management Plan said.

Another goal of the plan is to help seniors who can still drive. Cars provide flexibility in a suburban area where destinations are spread out, it said.

A 2011 survey of 1,000 local seniors found that 75 percent had a driver’s license and 65 percent drove themselves when making a trip.

“The private vehicle will be the mode of choice for Solano seniors as they age in place,” the Mobility Management Plan said.

It envisions the one-stop call center giving out older driver safety information at a cost of $13,000 to $20,000 annually.

Finally, the Mobility Management Plan looks at ways to make certain people eligible for paratransit services under the Americans With Disabilities Act are getting them. These are people who are unable to ride a typical city bus.

Solano County transit operators process about 1,000 Americans With Disabilities Act applications annually. The Mobility Management Plan recommends establishing a countywide, in-person system and countywide appeals process. The plan lists no estimated cost.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 1 comment

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  • FedUpJune 12, 2014 - 7:55 am

    The recycle bin parking lot by the rail road (train station bridge on Union St.) should be paved turned into a commuter parking station to encourage people to take the train. also it would help if a bus would stop at the Fairfield side of the bridge. The number 5 bus takes a tortuous route all through Fairfield and Suisun to get to the train station. Why drive or ride a bus to Suisun to get to the train statio (if you live in Fairfield) if you can just walk across the bridge. listen up STA.

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