Trying to get seniors on board 

 A continuing decline in SamTrans ridership has officials with the Peninsula’s bus system trying to increase use by focusing on a growing group of residents in the region who need to keep their mobility: seniors.

As part of that goal, SamTrans recently launched “Seniors on the Go,” a new campaign to educate the elderly about the bus system in order to help them stay “independent, active and connected in their communities.”

“We see this as an untapped market,” SamTrans spokeswoman Christine Dunn said of senior riders. “We are interested in increasing our ridership, of course, but this is also a population that is increasing and we want to be able to get these people on board.”

The number of seniors living in San Mateo County is expected to double in the next 20 years, according to Jean Conger, SamTrans senior mobility project coordinator. An estimated 53,600 seniors lived on the Peninsula in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Part of the campaign is a new program that pairs seniors who have never been on a SamTrans bus with an experienced rider to help them learn how to use the public transit system and become more comfortable with it.

SamTrans is getting $522,000 from the Federal Transit Administration during the next three years for the Mobility Ambassador Program and other initiatives to increase ridership, including a vehicle-share program and a mobility guide.

From January to September 2008 and during the same period this year, ridership on SamTrans decreased by 6.7 percent, from 50,600 to 47,200, according to transit agency documents.

Using public transportation is a way to help seniors stay mobile, a key factor in keeping their independence, Conger said.

“If they stop going out because they cannot drive, they often miss doctors appointments,” she said. “Before they lose the ability to drive, we want them to try something different, like public transportation.”

The ambassador program is one of many the transit company is using to increase ridership.

Jim Leahy, 83, of Redwood City said he stopped driving eight months ago when he became ill. Now, he uses a shuttle from the Veterans Memorial Senior Center to get to and from activities at the facility, he said, but otherwise does not use public ransportation.

“It costs too much,” Leahy said. “And they’re never on time.”

He said he would consider SamTrans if it were cheaper.

Redwood City senior center manager Bruce Utecht approved of the outreach program.

“It’s good for seniors,” he said. “For a lot of people, driving is freedom. But at one point, you have to stop driving and many people don’t know what to do.”

The ambassador program will be launched at six San Mateo County senior centers by the end of the month, according to Conger.



Public transit ridership declines on Peninsula

Average weekday ridership in the last fiscal year and the current one:

Mode Sept. 2008 Sept. 2009 Change (percent)
SamTrans 57,040 54,470 -4.5
Caltrain 43,820 39,800 -9.2
  Jan.-Sept. 2008 Jan.-Sept. 2009 Change (percent)
SamTrans 50,600 47,200 -6.7
Caltrain 44,960 40,270 -10.4

Source: SamTrans

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