Looking at the future, elderly will need more help in transport

Louise Baggett cocks her ear to hear the doorbell. She’s waiting for Paula Kartus, a volunteer driver with the nonprofit JET Express, for a ride to the hairdresser.

Baggett used to make the 15-minute trip on her own. But macular degeneration — an eye condition that’s “like a gray scarf pulled over my head” — took away her ability to drive.

And so the aging former folk dancer now slides a walker carefully across her kitchen floor as Kartus shepherds her to the car.

“The wonderful thing about this service is that I don’t have to impose on friends,” Baggett says of the ride, for which she pays $5. “And I’ve met some delightful people who volunteer.”

Although Baggett got her ride, the patchwork of volunteer and publicly subsidized ride services that exists for the elderly in the Kansas City area is sadly deficient. They’re all limited by geography, by riders’ incomes or by availability of volunteer drivers.

If the area’s elderly transportation system is challenged now, think of the demands on it in 20 years when the over-65 population has doubled.

Today’s fractured web of family, friends and tax- or grant-supported van services won’t cut it for the growing numbers of frail, disabled or poor elderly who can’t hire cabs or can’t make their way to curbs for van or bus pickups.

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