IN TODAY’S WORLD with our aging population, we need to be ready to address the challenges that are now on our doorstep.
Older people risk isolation when they can no longer drive or opt not to drive, losing their sense of independence and social inclusion. It can be a heart-wrenching experience if and when you have to take the car keys away from an aging relative and you see the loss and worry in their eyes. Living in a rural state only magnifies the issue.
One of the great take-aways from our recent community survey is that the majority of residents who live here want to age in place. Augusta residents are proud to live in our community and want to stay independent, but that requires affordable and convenient public transportation to stay engaged and active. Did you know that 86 percent of our senior population still drive themselves around by car, even if they shouldn’t be driving, and only about 8 percent use public transportation? So why is that? Is there a stigma associated with public transportation or is it something else?
Survey respondents had positive things to say about having easy-to-read traffic signs and well lit, accessible streets and intersections, which will only improve with a new “complete streets” policy being worked on by our city council and city management. When it came to public transportation, Augusta residents weren’t so positive. They felt the need for accessible and convenient public transportation that is timely and offers special transportation services for people with limited physical functioning.
Augusta needs an action plan moving forward to address these concerns. Citizens want to be socially involved, want to participate, desire employment and therefore need improved public transportation to remain actively engaged in our community.
What do we have in place now to give us a place to start? There are, of course, taxi services, Uber, KVCAP, and several agencies like Central Maine Private Transportation that are available. Some services focus on health care appointments, some are not affordable for all, and some are not reliable or very convenient. Guess we better roll up our sleeves.
The Augusta Age Friendly committee is interested in investigating a metro-type bus line between adjoining towns coming into and out of Augusta (with sheltered stops) and a volunteer driving program similar to what’s found in Cumberland, Bar Harbor and in the Belgrade area. These ideas are in the infancy stage as we look to address community concerns and we develop an action plan with city council, but the need is there to make Augusta a city of choice for all generations, a great place to live, have a family and grow old without becoming socially isolated.
Bob MacDougall is a retiree, resides in Augusta and is a volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program and AARP, often on legislative issues affecting seniors at the State House. He initiated and serves as chairman of the Augusta Age Friendly initiative as well as being on the AARP state advisory board. This is the fifth in a series of eight columns on the age friendly committee.