Metro invites seniors to jump aboard transit and Measure M bandwagon

AARP commissioned this painting to wrap around an LA Metro train as a way of highlighting the importance of transit to older people. The organization collaborated on Metro's first
AARP commissioned this painting to wrap around an LA Metro train as a way of highlighting the importance of transit to older people. The organization collaborated on Metro's first "Older Adult Transportation Expo" held Tuesday.

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With the senior population set to balloon in coming years as the baby boomers age, Los Angeles County's transit agency is looking to better fill that population's transportation needs.

So the Metropolitan Transportation Authority held its first ever Older Adult Transportation Expo at Union Station Tuesday, with information booths and presentations covering the various transit options available in the county and highlighting improvements to service that could benefit seniors. 

But the agency also took the opportunity to promote Measure M, a tax measure to generate billions that it wants voters to approve in this general election for funding rail, buses and highways. It did so with the help of California AARP, the local arm of the nonprofit group for retirees which has endorsed the initiative.

"So many people no longer want to drive or can no longer drive. So they need options to support them so they’re not isolated in their homes and communities," said Nancy McPherson, the director of California AARP.

"We really need an infrastructure that is solid and works and goes to the places that we need it to go. We really want people to be aware of the importance of supporting initiatives that change the landscape so that people have things like transportation options," she said.

About 300 people attended the expo, where Metro showed off its new low-floor buses that will improve access for older people and others with mobility challenges. The low floor eliminates the high step onto the vehicle that can often make boarding difficult for seniors.

The agency is also in the midst of implementing several long-term improvements, such as extra elevators in stations, color-coded priority seating in trains and buses, more space for walkers and wheelchairs, tactile paths on platforms and easier to read signage.

Glendale resident Eva Carlisle was among those attending the event.

"I came here on the bus," she said. "It is an absolutely wonderful way to get around."

Not all seniors are on board with public transit. Metro estimates about 6 percent of its riders are people over 65, although they make up 12 percent of the county's population. By 2030, their proportion in the population will double.

"Getting people used to taking public transportation is a challenge," said McPherson. "It is intimidating."

Metro does run a program called "On the Move," which organizes group trips to familiarize seniors with public transportation. Directors work with community centers and other organizations to start chapters all around the county.

But research suggests there's more than just a psychological barrier to transit use by older adults. A study from the Brookings Institute showed the majority of seniors live in more suburban areas of L.A. county where buses and trains are less available.

Traveling a mile or more to get to a bus stop can be daunting for seniors, and McPherson points out the conditions around transit stops aren't always ideal for older people.

"If you look at many of the streets in Los Angeles, you see these big eruptions of cement, or you look at a street that isn’t safe to cross or that the lights change really quickly before someone can actually get across the street. Those are things that we have to start with before we get to the physical vehicles," she said.