“Transportation gets more challenging as you get older. It’s a loss of independence,” says Cindy Kienlen, Director of the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging.
“Fifty percent of the actively driving people we surveyed feared whether they were going to be able to safely drive in the future,” she explains. “They worry about depending on someone else to drive them everywhere. This survey validated our program.”
Cindy is talking about COAST—short for Commission on Aging Senior Transit—a partnership between the County Commission on Aging and the Bay Area Transportation Authority. The program kicked off its inaugural year in 2017, transporting seniors across Grand Traverse County two to three days a week, free of charge. Now their 18-seat bus (with room for wheelchairs) provides door-to-door transportation service to seniors four days a week and has provided more than 4,430 rides to date.
In order to utilize this free transportation service, community members first need to be a Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging member. All this free membership takes is proving you’re over 60 years old and that you live in Grand Traverse County.
Then, seniors can call BATA up to two weeks in advance to schedule rides. Seats are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. “Some people literally set their alarms to 4:45 a.m. to schedule their ride,” shares Cindy, noting the phone line opens at 5 a.m. The COAST bus runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Starting October 1, Tuesdays will be part of the schedule as well.)
“I think it’s really important for people to feel comfortable with public transportation,” Cindy adds. So that’s what they do. Caregivers are welcome to come along, too, even if they don’t meet the age requirement. Plus the COAST bus often has the same driver. Instead of parking in your driveway to pick you up like other transportation services, the driver will help you right from your door—a huge benefit for those with walkers and wheelchairs—and serves as a familiar face that brings comfort to riders. And when people pick up the phone to schedule their rides, they’ll hear the friendly voice of one of BATA’s helpful customer service staff.
Now COAST isn’t only used to get to and from medical appointments like you may expect. In fact, medical appointments and runs to the pharmacy take up less than half of the rides. COAST also makes drop offs for religion, employment, personal visits and even shopping.
“We have a couple both in wheelchairs—their biggest outing of the week is going grocery shopping together. People have asked why they don’t get their groceries delivered. But they don’t because this is their outing,” says Cindy. “They look forward to it!
“For whatever reason, if you need the COAST bus to help you get there, call and schedule a ride,” invites Cindy.
Line up a Commission on Aging membership by calling 231.922.4688, and schedule a ride via COAST/BATA at 231.941.2324.