'Driving' Solutions for Nashville’s Aging Adults (The Tennessean, Opinion)

When its time to give up the keys, senior citizens need to keep moving. Senior Ride Nashville could be the solution.

Ed Cole is a board member of the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee and the chair of the Senior Transportation Leadership Coalition.

How do you plan to get around Nashville once driving yourself is no longer an option? As an older adult, I see firsthand that our city’s growing aging population faces a challenge of what to do when driving becomes difficult or impossible.

Nashville and Middle Tennessee are built around the car as the primary means of mobility. While this is beginning to change, there is rapidly growing population of older adults who will find great value in creative ways to replace "self as driver" while still enjoying the mobility provided by the car.

According to research, in just four more years, 22 percent of all Tennesseans will be age 65 or older.  Among senior adults, the fastest growing age group are those 85 years old and older. For the majority of older adults, all of the benefits of driving are still important even when the ability to drive goes away or significantly diminishes. Getting to the doctor, shopping for groceries, meeting for lunch with friends and visiting a barber or stylist are parts of healthy living.

As an active board member of the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee and chair of the Senior Transportation Leadership Coalition, I know Nashville’s transportation issues firsthand. How can we provide another way to let the car still be a key element in getting around while recognizing more and more of us in the years ahead do not want to be – and perhaps at some point should not be – the driver?

When its time to give up the keys, we need a user friendly service to keep us moving – a convenient, affordable volunteer program that is organized, safe and dependable, and helps us maintain our quality of life and connection to the community.

From the Coalition’s research and discussions over the past 18 months emerged Senior Ride Nashville, a new volunteer-based ride service for older adults that is slated to begin limited service in Nashville in mid-2017.

The service brings together two of Nashville's greatest strengths: a growing and vibrant population of aging adults and a tradition of volunteerism and neighbors helping neighbors.  Everyone wins: the older adult maintains the vitality that mobility each day can provide and the volunteer is a catalyst to meaningful change. Now, all we need is a group of worthy and dedicated volunteers to help this Council on Aging initiative shift into high gear.

The service is not intended to replace current mobility options, but supplement them. For instance, if a volunteer-provided service from door to door is needed, Senior Ride Nashville will provide the trip.  If other services are more appropriate, such as AccessRide, Uber, Lyft, traditional taxi, transit, bus, van limo etc., Senior Ride Nashville will make the referral in the easiest way possible.

The primary goal of Senior Ride Nashville is to harness the energy, vitality and volunteer spirit of our community to meet the growing mobility needs of our older adult neighbors. Senior Ride Nashville taps into technology to match the need for a trip with the willingness of a volunteer. It offers a way to provide not only a ride, but caring assistance and friendly conversation.

These are the kinds of transportation solutions that will continue to keep Nashville’s aging population connected and on the road to aging well.

To stay informed on the latest news about Senior Ride Nashville, volunteer or sign-up for updates here: seniorridenashville.org