Greater Greater Washington

Seniors, people with disabilities cite difficulty of using transit

For many seniors and people with disabilities, transit is a lifeline. But poor access and limited service make them less likely to use it, says a new survey from Fairfax County.


Photo by TriMet on Flickr.

The Fairfax County Mobility & Transportation Committee, which I co-chair, surveyed 1,163 seniors and disabled adults in the county and Cities of Fairfax and Falls Church this winter on their transportation habits and published a report with its findings and recommendations. Residents will be able to discuss transportation issues relating to seniors at several forums being held in the next few weeks.

Survey respondents say inaccessible bus stops, unsafe pedestrian crossings and limited service prevent them from using public transit, commenting that most current service in Fairfax is designed for commuters and is of little use to them.

By far the most common request was more bus service during off-peak times and increased connections to shopping centers, senior centers, recreation centers, and libraries, along with transit centers.

Without transit, many respondents are stranded. 27% said they could not reach a destination in the past month because they didn't have a ride, while those with the lowest annual household incomes were most likely to not leave their homes in a typical week.

The survey found that while 58.5% of respondents drove, they restricted their driving to a particular time of day to avoid rush hours, inclement weather, and driving after dark. Besides using transit, non-driving seniors and people with disabilities use taxis, paratransit services, and ride with relatives, friends, and volunteers.

When asked how to improve transportation in Fairfax County over the next year, survey respondents overwhelmingly recommended improving transit. Other popular requests were to increase transit and taxi fare subsidies and provide more information about available transit services. 34% of older adults and people with disabilities who have difficulty finding transportation were unaware of any discounts on transit or taxi fares.

Most respondents were unaware of individualized transit travel-training programs offered by WMATA and its partner, the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, as well as group training offered by Fairfax County. (Travel-training is also offered in Maryland by Independence Now and in DC by MTM.)

Senior citizens and disabled adults often rely on transit to get around, but existing service isn't good enough. Hopefully, this survey will raise awareness of their needs and bring about much-needed improvements.

To read the full report, visit Fairfax County's website. You'll find comments and recommendations on a variety of transportation modes and providers. Those interested in working on any of these issues should contact Jill Clark by email at jill.clark@fairfaxcounty.gov, by phone at (703) 324-5874, or with TTY at (703) 449-1186.

Steve Yaffe co-chairs the Mobility and Transportation Committee for the Fairfax Area Long Term Care Coordinating Council & Disability Services Board. He has over 30 years of work experience as a planner, developer and contract oversight officer for bus transit and paratransit, and currently works at Transit Services Manager for Arlington County, Virginia. 

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No doubt providing useful transportation options for low-income seniors is a great challenge. I'm not sure what the answer is. For middle-income seniors, autonomous cars should solve most of their transportation problems, although widespread use of that technology is still probably more than a decade away.

by Chris S. on Jun 12, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

I'm able bodied and young and I'd balk at most Fairfax connector stops which is basically just a bus flag along an uncurbed road. Maybe there will be a concrete pad underneath the sign.

by drumz on Jun 12, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

@ drumz

What purpose does a concrete pad serve if there is no sidewalk it will still lead to grass

by kk on Jun 12, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

At least your shoes will stop getting soaked. Otherwise, beats me.

by drumz on Jun 12, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

@kk: it protects the street from deteriorating under the weight of the buses.

by Mike on Jun 12, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Mike, they're refering to the concreate slabs for folks waiting for the bus to stand on, not slabs built into the roadway. I see them frequently in the suburbs.

by Birdie on Jun 12, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

I think the importance of GOOD transit infrastructure and connections cannot be understated. We talk a lot about mechanisms to deter people from driving, but ultimately without good alternatives it becomes much harder for people to take that final step. Particularly seniors and PWD.

by Scoot on Jun 12, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

@ drumz

I would actually design routes around the surrounding area and its ability to navigate via foot.

Personally I would make some type of mandate that makes sidewalks a must for all new construction so that over time when older houses are rebuilt or destroyed by fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, trees etc they must include a sidewalk.

The funny thing is that there are stops that are not near sidewalks in developed areas you can find bus stops that are on a patch of grass less than 3 blocks from Tysons Corner Center on Leesburg Pike and also along Gallows Rd and Lee Hwy.

One thing that would be nice would be to include not just sidewalks but to make sure cross walks less than 30 feet from bus stops or if need be add a cross and intersection. I see many people cross in the middle of roads due to no cross walks of any type or they are 1/4 to 1 mile away. I would be damned if im gonna walk 1/4 mile to a light when im just going across the street. I have always wondered why you have some bus stops on both sides of the road when there is only lets say an apartment complex on one side of the road and nothing on the other why not just have buses do some type of loop so no one has to cross a dangerous street.

by kk on Jun 12, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

It could be as easy as Fairfax County taking a bus and driving it along every bus route and stopping at every stop to look at the conditions, while someone tries to get on and off the bus to surrounding blocks with a wheelchair or plays a blind person.

I know damn well someone has to have had there wheelchair get stuck in grass atleast once after getting off some bus be it Fairfax Connector, Metrobus, Dash, Art, RideOn, or PG County the bus

by kk on Jun 12, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I'd definitely chalk it up to lack of planning with a dose of modern enclave style suburb design that leads to that.

That said, it's been a while since I've seen any new construction without sidewalks being built. But the problem is that it's incomplete and you have to wait for something to be built/re-built. Meanwhile Fairfax is a large county with a lot of area to cover. It's a substantial task,though it needs to be done.

by drumz on Jun 12, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

@kk yes, I have gotten stuck on the grass getting off a Ride-on bus. Driver helped me after realizing he could have stopped a few feet earlier so I could get off on the sidewalk instead.

by Dkf747 on Jun 12, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Fairfax County requires the addition of missing sidewalk or trails sections when property is rezoned. When someone builds by right, no sidewalks/trails are required unless they were mandated by earlier rezoning.

VDOT controls most sidewalks and normally puts them on one side of a road, but not another.

Fairfax County typically bonds money for sidewalks. A number have been put in, but they often require easements, which some landowners simply won't give. The County will not condemn land, but will move on to another area where the landowners want sidewalks.

A possible, but unused, solution might be to form tax districts where a neighborhood wants sidewalks. The additional taxes raised could supplement VDOT and County funding, bringing more sidewalks sooner.

by tmt on Jun 12, 2013 5:53 pm • linkreport

So, we need sidewalk minimums?

by Chris S. on Jun 13, 2013 9:28 am • linkreport

The county needs to start condemning land where there are egregious gaps in the sidewalk system. E.g., here there's a continuous sidepath or at least a wide shoulder for several miles along 29, except right here: https://maps.google.com/?ll=38.841695,-77.392288&spn=0.000764,0.001435&t=w&z=20 So for the width of one residence, pedestrians have to climb over a curb, into a multilane divided highway, then back up a curb, up a bank, and between some trees to get back to the path. Slightly further west that path goes through the woods over a pedestrian bridge, but those amenities are basically useless because of the gap.

by Mike on Jun 13, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

Chris S.,

Simply, yes. Sidewalks should be a requirement in urban and suburban places, especially places that have regular (for a given definition of regular) transit service. I want to subsidize walking (though simply providing a sidewalk is the barest of such a subsidy) while not subsidizing driving.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

No Smoking signs or decals should be posted on all bus stops and bus shelters. People who wait for a bus should not be exposed to secondhand smoke and tobacco litter.

by Gail Becker on Jun 13, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

@ Drumz - "Simply, yes. Sidewalks should be a requirement in urban and suburban places, especially places that have regular (for a given definition of regular) transit service. I want to subsidize walking (though simply providing a sidewalk is the barest of such a subsidy) while not subsidizing driving."

But surely we can rely on the market to provide the sidewalks people want, just like with parking. Even without minimums, the number of sidewalks will still increase.

by Chris S. on Jun 13, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

Yes, I would expect many new developments to build sidewalks as part of the deal. But to have sidewalks be effective you need a network. You can't do islands of sidewalks and expect it to do any good. Same thing for streets in general. Networks and grids function better than enclave/arterial style.

And again, I want to subsidize walking while not subsidizing driving because I think that's best for the community.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

@Chris S: you're being disingenuous: it's quite possible to either not park a car or to park it somewhere other than a particular building. It is difficult or impossible to get from point A to point B if there's no path connecting the points. There's also no market incentive at all for providing public sidewalks, though there is a large societal benefit in doing so.

by Mike on Jun 13, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

Another thought, if you build the neighborhood without sidewalks sometimes you need to get easements to build them later (this is an issue in DC and Arlington particularly) whereas with parking a lot of times the parking is already private though its still mandated to be built. It'd be slightly different if parking minimums had an inclusion that they be publicly accessible.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

@ Gail Becker

How do you plan to enforce the no smoking.

by kk on Jun 16, 2013 1:37 am • linkreport

No smoking at bus shelters and bus stations would be enforced the same way other laws and regulations are enforced. Most people obey signs and laws. As some examples, I never see anyone smoking inside metro stations, restaurants, theaters and anywhere else smoking is prohibitied.

by Gail Becker on Jun 17, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

Just like people obey stop signs, cross walks on the roads or in the case of WMATA facilities no eating, no drinking, no audio without headphones, no posting materials on shelters etc.

I see people break the law every single day and not a single damn thing is done about it. This happens even in front of officials who just let stuff go due to them not wanting to do paperwork.

If you are going to do a no smoking what about a no eating, animals in enclosed containers, drinking, conversing plus many more there are things besides smoke that can harm people. You never know if someone has a medical condition where certain foods, drinks, animal fur/dander or loud noise can harm them.

by kk on Jun 17, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

Some people will break laws, and laws are not enforced 100 percent of the time. Most people comply with the laws, especially when signage is posted.

by Gail Becker on Jun 17, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Most people do not actually comply with the laws they are selective on which ones they choose to obey.

Examples everyone knows the following are illegal but people do it.

Cell/Mobile phones and driving ( I see drivers like this all the time I could go around reporting them some how I would)

Jaywalking (go around any big venue such as Union Station, Verizon Center, Nationals Park, Zoo, Smithsonian you will see this with more than just a few people)

Littering (food, gum wrappers, soda bottles, spit/saliva, bags, dog poop, etc)

by kk on Jun 18, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

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