Mendocino County seniors struggle with transportation needs – Fort Bragg Advocate-News

FORT BRAGG — Madelyn Vega remembers the date she decided she wanted to stop driving. It was Election Day, January 6, and the 81-year-old retiree was driving to drop her voter ballot in the box at Thurston Auto Plaza in Ukiah.

“There are so many driveways into Thurston’s and I really hesitated at the first driveway and then the second driveway and which one should I go into, and after that was when I had the conversation about not driving anymore with Tamar,” Vega said.

It’s a decision that every senior will eventually make:  When is it time to hang up the car keys for good? The important followup question is: What are the options for staying independent?

Vega represents the elder population, which in Mendocino County is a higher percentage of the overall population than both the state and national average. By 2030, one in four county residents is expected to be over the age of 65. The age 85+ segment of the county’s population is projected to increase by a whopping 56 percent by then — and people in that age group reluctantly discover reduced freedom to come and go because it is no longer safe to drive.

Kathy Johnson, who has provided information about transportation options and other senior benefits for more than 20 years for the Lake and Mendocino County Area Agency on Aging’s Community Cares program, said she often hears from families trying to learn about and find transportation options for their elderly parents once they take the car keys away.

“They are asking, ‘What do we do now?’” Johnson said.  “The point is that, if we want to promote independence as we age in place, then having a vibrant public transportation system that supports that independence is vital. Increased longevity directly correlates with people getting out and about.”

Vega, who uses a landline phone only, said she would call Mendocino Transit Authority’s (MTA) Dial-A-Ride bus or the Ukiah Senior Center bus if her children were unable to drive her to medical appointments, errands and shopping.

Both those options provide professional, personalized transportation for seniors and disabled people throughout an extensive portion of the county, with the most robust service in the cities and towns of Ukiah, Willits, Fort Bragg, Boonville and Point Arena.

The public transportation option that offers the broadest hours of operation and drivers with extensive training in safety and passenger assistance is offered by MTA’s Dial-A-Ride service in Ukiah and Fort Bragg. In Ukiah, Dial-A-Ride operates Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. and is reserved exclusively for seniors age 62+ and disabled passengers, with wheelchair lifts, door-to-door service, and punch passes. In Fort Bragg, the Dial-A-Ride service operates weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In Willits for $1.50 per ride, seniors can catch the MTA Route 1 bus that winds its way in one big hourly loop through town from senior housing, the senior center, hospital and health clinics, city hall, downtown and Evergreen shopping areas, and Sherwood Valley casino.

Senior centers provide robust transportation and an important food and social lifeline to seniors and disabled citizens in Ukiah, Willits, Fort Bragg, Boonville and Point Arena. Each senior center offers its own bus schedule with a reservation service like MTA’s Dial-A-Ride and the buses have wheelchair lifts. Rides may be reserved for a wide variety of trips and drivers may help tote grocery bags into a senior’s house, called “door-through-door” service.

In Ukiah, the senior center buses serve people age 55+ and operate every weekday except Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. In Fort Bragg, the bus takes people age 60+ and runs every weekday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. The Willits Senior Center offers transportation for seniors age 55+ every weekday from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and includes service to Brooktrails, Pine Mountain and close-in areas of the valley.

With only 32 residents per square mile in rural Mendocino County compared to the average 273 people per square mile in California, it’s cost prohibitive to provide public transportation to everyone. Many non-driving seniors living in remote areas of Mendocino County like Comptche, Branscomb and Laytonville are isolated, reliant primarily on neighbors and relatives for rides.

Mendocino Transit Authority provides safe, low-cost and convenient public bus service throughout Mendocino County and to Santa Rosa. For more information about transportation options, call (707) 462-1422 or visit http://www.mendocinotransit.org/