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"Good to Go" Transit Option for Older Americans"


Remarks: James Simpson, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration

New York, New York

Acknowledgments and Introduction

Thank you Lee Sander, The Rudin Center, AARP, and the New York City Transportation Council for sponsoring this event today, which will begin an ongoing dialogue about transportation for older adults.

I am proud to be here on behalf of President George W. Bush and Acting Secretary of Transportation Maria Cino-- as mobility for older Adults is central to the President’s Executive Order on coordinating and enhancing human services transportation. 

Transit impact on me personally…

- Congestion initiative and its impact on public transportation.

Many Americans are unable to get to work, run errands, access medical care, or participate in community activities simply because they do not have reliable transportation. Some can’t afford their own cars because of income.

Others may not be able to operate a vehicle because of medical conditions, disabilities, or other limitations.  Individuals who are transportation dependent live in all parts of the country—including here in New York City.

For just a minute—I want to outline a few statistics:

As my colleague at AARP just mentioned, the number of older Americans will double to 70 million by the year 2030 and seniors will comprise 20 percent of the total U.S. population.

In a study conducted by the Harris Poll and the National Organizations on Disability, over 54 million people, almost 20 percent of the population, reported having a disability.

And…the number of people with lower incomes continues to be a challenge.

There are as many stories behind these statistics as there are individuals. Joe, who relies on dialysis, needs reliable transportation to and from a medical facility to receive it—otherwise, his health deteriorates and his medical costs will skyrocket.

Ethel, who is 88 years young who had to give up her car- relies on alternative transportation to get to the doctor, the grocery store, to volunteer in the community, and to attend art classes.

Each day, in all of our communities, men and women find it difficult to participate in community life simply because they lack a ride.

“Human service transportation” means meeting the basic, day-to-day mobility needs of people who are transportation dependent, especially older Americans, as well as individuals with low-incomes and people with disabilities.

The “family” of human service transportation services supported by Federal programs includes much more than dedicated buses or vans. It also includes programs that reimburse consumers for taxi or bus tokens—reimburses consumers for gas and vehicle operating costs—and supports volunteer driver programs.

There are many reasons to be concerned about human service transportation today. Lack of transportation affects an individual’s independence and opportunity.

But human service transportation is not just about improving individual lives. It is about improving all facets of our economy, culture, and society that rely on transportation systems to work effectively at the community level.

When transportation does not work, other things—our healthcare system, our economy, and our civic culture--cannot work at their best, either.

Reliable transportation is a prerequisite for a healthy economy and often the first step toward independence and opportunity for older adults, as well as people with lower incomes and people with disabilities.

Fortunately, Americans have recognized that transportation is important for healthy communities and personal independence.  In 1964, Congress created a Federal program to help support public transportation.

Today, through the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) programs, the Federal government provides approximately $7 billion annually to develop new transit systems and improve, maintain, and, in the case of small urbanized and rural areas, operate existing systems. 

FTA oversees thousands of grants to hundreds of State and local transit providers who are responsible for managing their transit systems and infrastructure projects.

Overall, the annual Federal investment in public transportation represents only about 17 percent of all such investments; the remainder comes from State and local government contributions, dedicated State and local tax revenues, and fare box and other revenue generated by local transit systems.   

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in July of 1990, recognized the rights of people with disabilities to the same public transportation service that is available to other Americans. Today, over 90 percent of America’s public transit buses are accessible, and every new bus or transit system must be accessible.

In spite of the significant investment in public transportation services, we still have serious gaps. Transportation to the grocery store, a city council meeting, or the doctor’s office may simply not be available, affordable, or accessible. These gaps in service, even here in New York City are particularly burdensome for individuals who are transportation-disadvantaged, especially older adults.

Over the years, in response to these challenges, Federal, State and local governments created specialized programs to meet particular transportation needs.

At the Federal level alone, there are at least 63 separate programs, administered by eight Federal departments, and even more agencies, that provide special transportation services to older adults and others dependent on these services. 

Most of these are human service programs that fund limited transportation services to provide eligible participants with access to particular services, such as health care, senior centers, or rehabilitation programs. 

Let me give you just one example of how this plays out at the community level: 

In one neighborhood, there are three different vans each supported by separate funding streams: Medicaid, Area Agency on Aging, and the Public Transportation system.  Each van is only carrying 1-2 passengers, and picking up neighbors going to the same part of town. 

All while –people living in other neighborhoods can’t get service.  Policy makers and tax payers ask-why one van couldn’t meet the combined needs of these neighbors. 

It is no secret that the emergence of so many separate transportation options—that are tied to specific programs, or available only to specific population subgroups-- has created a complex, often duplicative, web of transportation services in our communities.
Each program is likely to have different eligibility rules, different destinations, its own reservation system and rules, and unique travel routes. Merely figuring out what services are available to a particular destination can be an enormous challenge for consumers.

In 2004, President Bush signed an Executive Order that has provided impetus to expand participation from 11 Federal departments.  Through United We Ride, the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility is working at many levels---through policy, through programs, and through technical assistance.

The Council is working on solutions and strategies for coordinating human service transportation across Federal, State, and local programs.  In a study conducted by the Transportation Research Board –it was estimated that just by improving the coordination of human service transportation programs and resources; we would generate a combined savings of more than $700 million dollars per year.

The Council’s goal is to help communities simplify access so that anyone—especially older adults---can call ONE NUMBER, regardless of where they are going, who is providing the service, and who is paying for the service.

The Council recognizes that there is much that can be done at the Federal level to clear the way and enhance coordination. 
As Chair of the Executive Council, I am pleased to tell you that we are in the process of finalizing joint policy statements that clarifies two points: First, that all of our grantees across federal programs can and should plan services together to serve the total needs of the community, not just the narrow needs of their own programs. 

In fact, SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users) is one of the first pieces of legislation that requires this level of planning coordination for FTA programs.

Second, members of the Council want to make it clear that vehicles supported through one federal program can be used to serve consumers of other Federal programs.

The Council is also working on the principles of “how” to share costs -- and strategies that will work across various federal programs.

The Council looked at these coordination challenges through research, analysis, expert panels, focus groups, and listening sessions—and has concluded that there are five key areas that are critical for building coordinated human service transportation for older adults and others:

The Executive Order is grounded in an understanding that real progress will only happen through hard work, collaboration, and consensus-building at the State and local level as well.

I know that this is not easy work, but believe it is well worth our time and our energy!!  I know that this will require us to think differently and creatively about how we deliver transportation services.  

But--only if we start today, will we have the chance to build transportation systems and services that work for all of our citizens.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together- so that older adults here in New York and across the country can fully participate in our communities for many years.  Thank you for your leadership and your commitment to this process.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact