New Transportation Options on the Horizon for Middle Tennessee Seniors

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, 22% of Tennesseans will be 65 and older by 2020, and the 85+ cohort is the fastest growing segment of the older population. Nashville currently has 30,000 residents who are 75 years and older, those most likely to have multiple chronic health conditions and need transportation assistance.  Many older adults continue to drive safely, often giving rides to family members and neighbors. Others may limit or stop driving due to declining vision and other age-related changes.  Those no longer driving frequently find themselves isolated at home. Some, lacking alternatives, continue driving, raising a public safety concern. According to research published in the Journal of Public Health, life expectancy typically exceeds driving life expectancy for both men (6 years) and women (11 years).

A 2011 Transportation for America study revealed that seniors who no longer drive make 15% fewer trips to the doctor, 59% fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family. The same study noted that the Nashville region ranked the 4th worst in terms of percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation.  Recent focus groups with older residents have shown that seniors use all types of rides available to them, but often encounter barriers such as price, eligibility requirements, technology, and lack of assistance.

For the past thirty years, the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee (COA) has identified the unmet needs of older adults and caregivers, and been a catalyst for creating collaborative solutions. The need for affordable, reliable assisted transportation is one of the biggest unmet needs for older adults in our community and an issue that COA has been working on since 2005. Thanks to the leadership of Board member and former TDOT Assistant Commissioner, Ed Cole, COA gathered public and private organizations around the table to create a solution.

Since May 2015, the Senior Transportation Leadership Coalition – with representation from AARP, FiftyForward, Jewish Family Services, TN Commission on Aging and Disability, TDOT, the Governor’s office, Metro agencies, faith communities, HCA Foundation and other cross sector partners – has studied model, supplemental transportation programs (several noted in the 2014 Governor’s Task Force on Aging report), identified best practices and preferred features and created plans for a new volunteer ride service for older adults in Nashville.  Never before has there been such strong momentum to launch a service like ones that have been successful in cities across the country.  In Tennessee, volunteer driver programs for older adults exist in Knoxville, Memphis, Blount, Co., and Fairfield Glade.  Innovations like the web-based Assisted Rides scheduling and tracking software provide the technology needed to support large-scale volunteer ride programs where pre-screened and trained volunteers log in and select rides.


COA and the STLC plan to launch a new, affordable volunteer-based ride service and call center in Nashville that will complement existing ride options and assist older adults in accessing transportation. The target population is senior adults age 60 and older living in Davidson County who no longer drive or limit their driving and can transfer safely in/out of a vehicle with limited assistance.  Screened and trained volunteer drivers will use their personal vehicles to provide door-to-door or door-through-door rides to medical appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies and other destinations. Limited service launches will begin in designated service areas in mid 2017 with gradual expansion through the addition of service areas in Davidson County.

While attempts were made to incorporate the new program within an existing nonprofit, no organization elected to take on a service of this scale, and COA does not provide direct services. Therefore, the STLC decided to create a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency to recruit and train volunteer drivers and operate the call center and volunteer ride service.  The STLC will follow the Blount Co. model of creating a sustainable membership organization where older adults “have skin in the game” by paying for affordable, annual memberships and ride fees.  Corporate sponsorships and grant funding will be utilized to cover fees for older adults with low incomes.  Mechanisms are being explored for car donations for ride credits to create a dignified option to “retire from driving.” Partnerships with STLC organizations such as AARP, FiftyForward, Jewish Family Services, and faith communities will be utilized to recruit volunteer drivers.

It’s important to note that this service is about more than rides….it’s about relationships, and health and quality of life.  It’s about enhancing our community by harnessing the power of volunteers to honor and support older adults and family caregivers.  Join us on this journey!

Watch Ed Cole Talk about Senior Ride on Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law Hour


While Senior Ride Ramps Up, You Have Options

Public transportation is available for persons 60 years of age or older to senior centers, congregate meal sites, medical appointments, shopping and other needs as noted below:

  • Metropolitan Social Services provides transportation to certain area nutrition sites in Davidson County.  (615-862-8840)
  • Metro Transit Authority provides a travel trainer program which provides assistance and training with riding the metro bus. (615-880-3282)
  • Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency provides curb-to-curb transportation in the 12 counties surrounding Davidson County during the week (Monday through Friday). Reservations are requested 24 hours in advance for local trips and 72 hours in advance for out-of-county trips.
    • Cheatham       615-792-7242
    • Dickson           615-446-4943
    • Houston          931-289-4118
    • Humphreys    931-296-2871
    • Montgomery  931-647-4602
    • Robertson       615-384-9335
    • Rutherford      615-890-2677
    • Stewart            931-232-6416
    • Sumner            615-452-5868
    • Trousdale        615-374-3311
    • Williamson      615-790-5791
    • Wilson              615-444-7433


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