Latest Survey says Houston Transit Lacking for Elderly

Houston has done it again! We've come in near the top of another list for bad transit. This time it's for people 65 and older living in communities with poor or no public transit. That age group is part of the baby boom generation, so this is a problem that will continue to grow. From the KUHF NewsLab Edel Howlin finds out just how bad that problem is.

"It’s just very difficult."

Naomi Hirsh is 76 years old. Ever since a hit and run car accident in 2006 she can’t get behind the wheel. In a car dependent city like Houston this limits her options of getting around.

Naomi Hirsh "There is no transportation for the elderly. Some of the organizations like Sheltering Arms or whatever have people volunteers in various areas and the first thing they ask you is what is your zip code? Well my zip code is too far out for any of them to come."

Because of the injuries she sustained in the car crash, Naomi has also lost her balance. Which means that not only can she not drive but she can’t even get out of her apartment without help.

David Goldberg with Transportation for America conducted the survey. The survey ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transit between now and 2015. He expects to see more and more cases like Naomi’s.

"What’s happening is that we have the largest generation in the history of the country, the baby boom generation, who also has the longest life expectancy of any previous generation that are beginning to retire this year. And they will have diminished capacity for driving an automobile."

Houston came 3rd in the survey. 68% of our aging population will have poor transit access between now and 2015. Atlanta topped the list at 90%. Goldberg says this aging population is a particular type of group.

"So they’re gonna find themselves though, living, many of them aging in place as they say. This is the phenomenon where people after age 55 tend not to move very much."

The question is how many people in Houston actually fit that definition of aging in place.

"If it’s 65 plus then 8.7% of the population in Houston is that age."

That’s Rafael Ayuso with AARP Texas. He says that amounts to about 200,000 Houstonians. Ayuso predicts that the number of people aging in place will grow as those aged 55 upwards nears 400,000 people. Without a plan in place, he thinks this may be a recipe for disaster.

"What has happened here is that about 4 out of every 5 seniors aged 65 plus, is car dependent. So we have a perfect storm brewing here of increasing numbers of baby boomers their mobility options are very severely limited."  

In Naomi’s case those options are completely limited. After not meeting the criteria for Houston’s free transit services she’s had to hire a private company called Encore Caregivers. While she can’t speak highly enough about the company, she worries how long she can keep using it.  

I can’t even afford this I’m running out of money. And I go to sleep every night and I ask God to please take me.

David Goldberg with Transportation for America hopes the survey will show where the top ten cities are lacking. As for helping those aging in place now, that’s up to local authorities. From the KUHF Newslab, I’m Edel Howlin.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...