By Jill Penley
Every single day at least one senior citizen in Johnson County misses a doctor’s appointment or foregoes needed medical treatment only due to the lack of transportation.
Many assume public transportation is only essential for large urban areas with significant traffic congestion, but public transportation can also play an essential role in rural areas and small towns.
“Even though rural areas could use better public transportation,” said Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor, “it may be somewhat of an economic challenge for a transportation service to survive in a small town.”
For many residents, longer commute times and lack of transportation options are also common barriers to employment. Even if there are adequate job opportunities, one must be able to get to work to maintain employment. While some type of accessible public transportation would help alleviate the problem, establishing viable public transport service in rural Tennessee is easier said than done.
Some households don’t have a vehicle or share one among multiple family members. While ride share programs, such as Lyft and Uber, where ordinary folks provide others a ride in their cars for a fee, are increasing in popularity and availability, they have yet to catch on in rural areas such as Johnson County. There are, reportedly, some local rideshare drivers; however, many in the senior population don’t have a smartphone or aren’t comfortable using one.
Additionally, many need cars with handicap accessibility, require help getting to and from the door, or simply are looking for a service that provides additional safety features.
“Public transit can be an important factor supporting rural and small-town economies by connecting people with local businesses, healthcare, and job opportunities,” said Scott Bogren, Executive Director, Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). “Expanding public transit in rural and small towns provides a safe alternative that helps reduce the risk of road accidents for vulnerable populations; while at the same time, its use promotes active lifestyles.”
Locally, transportation services are sparse; however, MyRide TN, an expanding, sustainable, senior-friendly volunteer transportation service, is available to those 60 years of age and older, live independently and walk independently (or with assistance from walkers or canes), but do not drive. Volunteer drivers use their vehicles to take riders to a variety of destinations, including medical appointments.
Perhaps more familiar, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Public Transit, or NET Trans, offers door-to-door non-emergency “demand response transportation” with flexible schedules. NET Trans, which operates as a Not For Profit, is part of the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency and functions in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the
Federal Transit Administration. Public rides are scheduled on a first come, first serve basis.