Photo by TriMet on Flickr.

For many seniors and people with disabilities, transit is a lifeline. But poor access and limited service make them less likely to use it, says a new survey from Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Mobility & Transportation Committee, which I co-chair, surveyed 1,163 seniors and disabled adults in the county and Cities of Fairfax and Falls Church this winter on their transportation habits and published a report with its findings and recommendations. Residents will be able to discuss transportation issues relating to seniors at several forums being held in the next few weeks.

Survey respondents say inaccessible bus stops, unsafe pedestrian crossings and limited service prevent them from using public transit, commenting that most current service in Fairfax is designed for commuters and is of little use to them.

By far the most common request was more bus service during off-peak times and increased connections to shopping centers, senior centers, recreation centers, and libraries, along with transit centers.

Without transit, many respondents are stranded. 27% said they could not reach a destination in the past month because they didn’t have a ride, while those with the lowest annual household incomes were most likely to not leave their homes in a typical week.

The survey found that while 58.5% of respondents drove, they restricted their driving to a particular time of day to avoid rush hours, inclement weather, and driving after dark. Besides using transit, non-driving seniors and people with disabilities use taxis, paratransit services, and ride with relatives, friends, and volunteers.

When asked how to improve transportation in Fairfax County over the next year, survey respondents overwhelmingly recommended improving transit. Other popular requests were to increase transit and taxi fare subsidies and provide more information about available transit services. 34% of older adults and people with disabilities who have difficulty finding transportation were unaware of any discounts on transit or taxi fares.

Most respondents were unaware of individualized transit travel-training programs offered by WMATA and its partner, the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, as well as group training offered by Fairfax County. (Travel-training is also offered in Maryland by Independence Now and in DC by MTM.)

Senior citizens and disabled adults often rely on transit to get around, but existing service isn’t good enough. Hopefully, this survey will raise awareness of their needs and bring about much-needed improvements.

To read the full report, visit Fairfax County’s website. You’ll find comments and recommendations on a variety of transportation modes and providers. Those interested in working on any of these issues should contact Jill Clark by email at, by phone at (703) 324-5874, or with TTY at (703) 449-1186.

Steve Yaffe co-chairs the Mobility and Transportation Committee for the Fairfax Area Long Term Care Coordinating Council & Disability Services Board.  He has over 30 years of work experience as a planner, developer and contract oversight officer for bus transit and paratransit, and currently works at Transit Services Manager for Arlington County, Virginia.