Why Aren't Older Adults and People with Disabilities Riding Metro?

One big takeaway from Metro’s first annual Aging and Disabilities Forum at Union Station earlier this month is that only 5% of older adults in LA County are using Metro’s discounted transit pass program, and people with disabilities are also significantly under-enrolled. This is not ok, and suggests Metro needs to increase its marketing and enrollment efforts! 

“It’s an incredible deal—with 35-cent fares during off-peak hours and 75 cents at peak!” says LA County Supervisor and Metro Boardmember Sheila Kuehl, who has championed the concerns of this cohort of transit riders. “It’s a priority for my office to see those registration rates rise, and I’m encouraging Metro to take up the challenge of ensuring that more seniors sign up for one of the best deals in town.” 

Why aren’t older adults and people with disabilities riding Metro? The reasons are many, and are generally the same reasons that ridership is declining across LA County: concerns about safety, difficulty in accessing stations and stops, inadequate bus shelters and benches and on-time arrival information, long waits at stops and unreliable bus service (because of traffic), and, sadly, because many people have moved out of communities well-served by transit in order to find more affordable places to live.

This is also why Move LA and others, especially long-time partner Hilary Norton of FAST (Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic), have long advocated for transit hubs that would also provide riders with access to food and water, information on how to get to destinations, clean bathrooms, and other amenities—which are provided in cities such as Tokyo, for example, where almost everyone takes transit.

But the good news is that if Metro can solve these issues for older adults and people with disabilities, the bus and rail system will also work better for everyone else and ridership could increase.

This is especially important because, according to the first of a soon-to-become-annual Aging and Disability Transportation Report released at the forum, 1 of every 8 people living in LA County in 2017 was older than 65—increasing to 1 of every 5 Angelenos by 2030, and 1 in 4 by 2060.

Solutions are being proposed to increase ridership: Because many older adults and people with disabilities do not access social media and web-based technologies as often as their younger counterparts, a coalition of advocates has formed to urge LA Metro to reach out to this largely untapped ridership population via mail—just like insurance companies and health care providers! Moreover, Metro has data on all the bus shelters in cities served by transit, and can work with local governments to add stops or improve stops with lighting, bus benches and shade.

But the biggest interest on the part of the groups committed to organizing older adults and people with disabilities—which include AARP, St. Barnabas Senior Services, CALIF (Communities Actively Living Independent and Free) and Move LA—is that Metro establish targets for increasing the number of people who use Metro’s discounted transit pass program—and then meet those targets. 

AARP-California—which proved to be an effective campaigner for Measure M, the first time this powerful organization supported a local ballot measure—has agreed to help lead this campaign as well. AARP’s Stephanie Ramirez says the organization will help get the word out on radio, TV and social media, and involve their membership.

And advocates will continue to meet with Metro boardmembers and staff so that the agency can learn how to better meet the needs of this growing and very important population of riders, as well as meet the agency’s own needs! We'll keep you posted.

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