By Lee Brinkman
What would you do if, for some reason, you were unable to continue driving? Read on to learn about the transportation options available in the Okanagan.
Many seniors in the Okanagan live alone and rely on their vehicle for independence. But as we age, our physical and mental abilities can change, and some of those changes—including our vision, hearing, and ability to react quickly—can affect our driving. Doctors are expected to report people who have a medical condition that prevents them from being able to drive safely, and just one medical issue can jeopardize your ability to drive. What would you do then?
For some seniors, the desire to remain in their home may be unrealistic if they don’t have friends or family to rely on for help with getting to doctor’s appointments or to pick up groceries and medications. Others who can afford it may take taxis. The bus is a good option—that is, if mobility issues aren’t a concern.
Thankfully, many seniors’ and community centres offer volunteer driver programs to help seniors get around; however, these resources are already stretched. In the coming years, delivery of services tailored to an aging population will likely involve more financial and human resources. This is especially true in communities throughout the North, Central, and South Okanagan where by 2021, population projections by BC Stats forecast that nearly 73,000 people will be aged 70 and older.
One such service that’s filling part of the need is the Better at Home program, a ground-breaking initiative offered across BC that provides seniors with support services including transportation. The program, delivered in the North Okanagan by NexusBC Community Resource Centre, offers simple, necessary services that allow seniors to remain in their own home for longer.
“Of all the services we provide, the biggest request by far is for transportation,” says Lisa Roberts, program coordinator with NexusBC. “Not being able to go anywhere you want, whenever you want, feels like a prison sentence to many seniors. Driving a senior to the doctor or for groceries helps restore their sense of independence and can be a social outing.”
Another low-cost option for seniors is through BC Transit. Most Okanagan communities have a regular bus system, and some have HandyDART. Low-income seniors who meet the BC Bus Pass eligibility criteria can buy an annual pass at a greatly reduced rate. If you don’t know how to use the bus, free training is available in some communities. The Community Travel Training program provides public transit training so seniors and those with disabilities can learn to use the bus on their own.
For those unable to use the bus due to mobility issues, HandyDART is available in some Okanagan communities. HandyDART is a door-to-door, shared-ride service for passengers who are unable to use conventional public transit without assistance. It offers two types of service: repetitive trips on a daily or weekly basis, and casual trips taken on a one-time basis.
For-profit driving services also exist in many communities. NexusBC in Vernon offers a directory of affordable local services for seniors and includes several individuals willing to provide rides for in-town and out-of-town appointments. There is an associated cost, but the service these drivers offer is more personalized.
If you still have your wheels but are getting close to the age of requiring a reassessment of your driving skills, some communities such as Vernon provide free workshops on preparing for your reassessment. Several driving schools also offer refresher courses to ensure you know the most up-to-date driving rules and techniques.
Even if you still drive, it’s a good plan to look into what your community offers for transportation options. Begin learning how to get around without your wheels. It may take away some of the shock and upset if you are suddenly no longer able to drive.
Lee Brinkman has been a part of the team at NexusBC Community Resource Centre since 2007. She is passionate about helping seniors and actively works to market the services that NexusBC provides for seniors, jobseekers, immigrants, and those who are interested in volunteering in the community. NexusBC is a non-profit, charitable organization in downtown Vernon. For more information, visit www.nexusbc.ca.
*Reprint from our Seniors Health 2016/2017 Issue