Once the T-Bird's Taken Away: Life After Driving

My grandmother never drove during most of her married life. Her husband was a car lover and did all the driving. That was until one day he purchased an old station wagon for his wife to drive while she was down on Cape Cod with the kids. It was quickly turned into a beach car.

My fiercely-independent French-Canadian grandmother viewed her car as a source of independence, especially after she was widowed at a young age. She drove everywhere. To work, to visit her children and eventually her grandchildren as they came along. From the Lower Cape to Boston, no distance seemed too far.

I have fond memories of my brother and I in my grandmother’s car, going to the Wellfleet drive-in or one of the many mini-golf establishments that dot the mid and lower cape. (I have less fond memories of getting carsick every time I got in the car.) We were always going on an adventure with my grandmother.

It seems to come quickly, getting older, doesn’t it? One day my grandmother was suddenly scared of driving at night. She didn’t want to drive too far. She never admitted any of this herself, but it was easy to tell by the relief that flooded her deep brown eyes when we insisted she stay the night and return home in the morning. Driving was just becoming too much.

It’s the conversation no one wants to have. Approaching an elderly loved one and having to take away their keys. Its more than metal attached to a key chain, its more than the car itself. Its symbolically stripping a loved one of their independence and placing upon them the indisputable fact they will have to rely on others from now on to get some things done.

My grandmother voluntarily stopped driving. It wasn’t easy. She rebelled against having to ask others for help and insisted on walking everywhere. She fell. Twice. Thankfully, each time there was a good Samaritan who immediately stopped and helped her. To her, falling was an ok price to pay to maintaining her independence.

There are plenty of articles about having the conversation about taking away a loved one’s keys. There are a lot less articles however, about life once a loved one stops driving. The reality is that in many cases, there really aren’t a lot of options for seniors to get around if they don’t have a car.

Many people’s first thought is ‘The Ride’ the MBTA service that transports elders and others who are otherwise unable to get out of their homes. While it is undoubtedly a great service, there are often complaints about its convenience, timing and the fact that you have to make a reservation ahead of time. No spontaneous food shopping trips or taking that last-minute doctor’s appointment

What other options are there?

My grandmother sometimes takes a taxi, which while costlier than ‘The Ride’ does offer immediate and on-demand rides. It also offers a sense of independence, you can go wherever you want when you want to. Depending on where you live, taxi coupons may be available. Boston offers a taxi discount program.[1] Contact your local Council on Aging to see if a similar program is available in your area.

There are councils on aging and Elder Services agencies across the state that offer volunteer ride programs. The MA Department of Health and Human Service offers a partial listing of these programs, but be sure to contact your local Council on Aging or Elder Services agency to see if they have any such programs.

For those that are tech savvy, UBER is an easy to use option. Elders can see how much the trip will cost before they go (UBER often costs less than a traditional taxi), see who their driver is and once they’re in the car can see the route that the driver is taking[2]. A downside to this would seem to be that not every elder has a smartphone or knows how to use apps like UBER. This problem was solved recently however, when UBER decided to allow someone with an account to book a ride for someone else, even If that person had no account.[3] This means that a family member can now book a ride for their loved one, pay for it and even track the ride themselves. The elder receives information via text about the ride and the details of who is picking them up. From there, all the elder has to do is get in the car and enjoy the ride.

There is no doubt that transportation is a difficult issue for seniors who don’t drive. There need to be easier ways for seniors to get out, socialize, get to medical appointments and do basic everyday tasks such as grocery shopping. It’s sad, depressing and isolating to feel stuck in your house all day. It can be demoralizing to have to rely on others and schedule around them to get around.

This seems to be a blog without a true resolution at this moment. I truly believe that apps such as UBER are the way of the future. On-demand transportation needs to be more widely available to seniors. I hope in the future that more Councils on Aging partner with UBER, taxi companies and other transportation focused services to help promote and provide these services. Seniors with readily available transportation options would be able to maintain a sense of independence, have more active social lives and help prevent and decrease feelings of isolation and depression. Change is always hard, but I think reevaluating how elders access transportation and incorporating new choices and technologies would be extremely beneficial to an elder’s quality of life.


Further Reading

MBTA: The Ride

MA Department of Health and Human Services: Transportation Options

MA HHS: Ride Resource guide

Uber for Elders

City of Boston Elderly Commission: Transportation


[1] “Transportation.” City of Boston Elderly Commission. July 12, 2016. https://www.boston.gov/departments/elderly-commission/elderly-commission-resources. Accessed September 9, 2017.

[2] Daily, Jeff. “Uber for Elders,” Senior.com. August 9, 2016. https://senior.com/uber-for-elders/ Accessed September 6, 2017.

[3] Lien,Tracy. “Now you can book UBER rides for people without accounts or smartphones.” The Los Angeles Times. June 27, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-uber-seniors-20170627-story.html. Accessed September 6, 2017.

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