Making It Easier to Leave Your Car at Home

Walk, bus, bike—Metro Transit supports leaving your car at home! Photo courtesy of Jeff Muceus, Flickr CC.

There comes a time when most people stop driving. Some drivers are forced to give up the keys due to physical limitations, like limited vision, or slow response that puts themselves and others at risk. With increasing frequency, drivers of all ages choose not to drive due to cost, comfort, convenience and/or concern for the environment.

A recent University of Michigan study shows a significant decrease in the percentage of young people with a driver’s license. A Seattle organization called Undriving has "licensed" more than 8,000 un-drivers, activating "people's innate curiosity, creativity, and resourcefulness to make more conscious, active transportation choices, and to discover and share the joys inherent in car-free travel."   

This article explores community resources that may make it easier for you to leave your car at home.

Metro and Sound Transit | Cost Savings | Free Rides | Riding the Bus | Volunteer Transportation | Online Tools | Trip Planning | Travel Training | Driving | Car Sharing

 

Link light rail is easy to catch in the transit tunnel and its many stops between downtown and SeaTac airport. Trains run every 7–8 minutes during peak hours and every 10–15 minutes at other times. Photo courtesy of Stephen Rees, Flickr CC.

Metro and Sound Transit
You probably know Metro Transit (part of King County) as the bus company that operates bus and trolley routes throughout King County, including the new RapidRide lines. You probably know something about Metro's door-to-door Access (ADA paratransit) van service for people with disabilities who can't use regular buses.

But did you know that Metro also offers dial-a-ride-transit (DART) service in certain parts of Algona-Pacific, Auburn, Black Diamond, Bothell, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Issaquah, Juanita, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, West Seattle (Water Taxi Shuttle), and Woodinville? Or that Metro operates the nation's largest publicly owned commuter vanpool program? Did you know that Metro hosts a regional ridematch system? All are programs worth checking out!

Sound Transit (governed by an independent board of directors) operates ST Express bus, Link light rail, and Sounder commuter train services in the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. These services are completely accessible and very useful when traveling to and from Sea-Tac International Airport and major shopping and entertainment destinations, including sports venues.

Seamless service and cost savings
Metro and Sound Transit are two of the seven public transportation agencies—with Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, and Washington State Ferries—that use ORCA, the regional fare payment system. An ORCA ("One Regional Card for All") card gives you the benefit of fast, easy fare payment and seamless regional travel. ORCA cards cost $5. Once you have a card, you can add between $5 and $300 on your card's "e-purse" or pay for a monthly pass for unlimited travel.

Individuals age 65+ and adults with disabilities can ride the bus, train or ferry at a reduced rate with a valid Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) ORCA card. The card costs $3. Once you have the card, you can add travel value, as above, but fares are discounted. Each of 13 participating transit agencies sets its own reduced fare structure (e.g., in King County, RRFP holders pay only 75 cents to ride Metro) but you only need to carry one pre-paid card. (Note: If you have an existing RRFP card and it's not an ORCA RRFP, you can exchange it at no cost.)

In addition to the regular transit services offered by the agencies that accept ORCA cards (listed above), you can look for RRFP savings on the South Lake Union Streetcar, King County Water Taxi, Intercity Transit, Jefferson Transit, Skagit Transit, and Mason Transit. That's a lot of travel opportunity! (Note: The RRFP discount is not applicable on ADA paratransit services, which are already discounted.)

Furthermore, RRFP holders are eligible to buy discounted taxi scrip, which is especially useful for late-night transportation and to and from medical appointments.

Find out if you can save money commuting by bus instead of driving alone by using the Metro Trip Calculator. This tool uses actual mileage, frequency, parking and fuel costs to calculate potential savings.

Click on the image above to watch the "Paying to Ride the Bus and Light Rail Train" video produced by the King County Mobility Coalition.

Free rides
If you own a car, for a limited time, you can receive free bus tickets when you renew your vehicle's license tabs. Each King County household registering a vehicle is currently eligible to receive eight Metro free ride tickets. This offer mitigates a congestion reduction charge that is in effect through May 2014.

If you don't need the passes, you have the option of donating them to support low-income residents who rely on the bus. Your donation would help those who are in need get access to public transportation in order to get to work, childcare, medical care and other needs. To request tickets or donate their value, click here.

Learning to ride the bus
While commuters find that riding the bus is generally comfortable, safe, and easy, new riders may feel intimidated by the process of boarding, paying their fare (or scanning their ORCA card), and disembarking at their destination. That's why the King County Mobility Coalition created a community travel video series, available in English, Amharic, Burmese, Nepali, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Tigrinya (with additional languages now in production):

In addition, the Mobility Coalition's Life in Motion video series raise awareness about transportation options in King County to encourage people with special needs to get out and about.

Hyde Shuttles provide free rides to adults age 55+ and people with disabilities in most Seattle neighborhoods and many other parts of King County. Photo courtesy of Senior Services.

The power of volunteers
Senior Services, the largest nonprofit serving older people in our area, offers several transportation programs that are beneficial for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and caregivers.

Hyde Shuttles utilize both paid and volunteer van drivers to provide free transportation to adults age 55+ and people with disabilities within specific service areas (currently Beacon Hill-Southeast Seattle, Burien-Highline, Central Seattle [First Hill, Capitol Hill, Central Area and the International District], Des Moines-Normandy Park, Federal Way, Northeast Seattle, Northwest Seattle, Queen Anne/Magnolia/Interbay, Renton, SeaTac-Tukwila, Shoreline-Lake Forest Park, Snoqualmie Valley, and West Seattle.) Typical local destinations include medical appointments, grocery stores, senior centers, and hot meal programs.

For more information, read Hyde Shuttle Service Begins in Federal Way, SeaTac and Tukwila (AgeWise King County, July 2012) and Hyde Shuttle Now Serving Queen Anne, Interbay and Magnolia (Seniors Digest, July 2011).

Volunteer Transportation matches volunteers with elders (age 60+) who need transportation from their homes to medical appointments but cannot use other transportation options but are able to transfer into a private vehicle. Volunteers use their own vehicles and escort their passengers in and out of home and appointments. More volunteers are always needed! Contact    

Additional transportation options for your consideration

Your ORCA card makes it easy to travel to destinations throughout King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties.

Trip planning information available online
Online trip planners and real time arrival information make transit connections much easier than they were in the old days! Following are online tools that can help you decide whether to drive or take a bus or train:

Travel training for you or your organization
Metro Transit offers transit instruction for seniors as well as individuals with disabilities, helping them learn how to travel independently and safely to destinations of their choice. Instructors provide practical experiences by riding public transit with the participant, self-pace and planned according to their daily activities. For more information, click here.

Hopelink is a local nonprofit organization that helps social service agencies help their clients increase independence and mobility through public transit. Their mobility management programs include:

  • Getting Around Puget Sound (GAPS): Hopelink uses trained volunteers to provide one-on-one transportation assistance at low-income housing sites, community centers, libraries and gathering places. (Note: New GAPS volunteers are welcome, especially bilingual individuals. Volunteers make a minimum six-month commitment for two to four hours per month. For more information, e-mail mobility@hope-link.org.)
  • Ride Around the Sound: Hopelink teaches basic navigation and safety, and leads transit excursions to cultural, educational, or service locations or outdoor events and sites for groups of 4–15 people. This service is offered to agencies serving residents with limited English (seniors and youth), low-income individuals, and veterans, and involves agency staff who can help clients with future travel planning.
  • Travel Ambassador Training: Hopelink offers free comprehensive travel resource training for social service agencies and staff at medical facilities and community resource sites. This program utilizes the "train the trainer" approach to disseminating public transit information.

Evaluate your driving ability
"Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Performance" is the AAA (automobile association—AAA became its official name in 1997) self-rating tool with facts and suggestions for safe driving. The self-rating form includes 15 questions about your recent driving experience. The discussion that follows helps you make an informed decision about safe driving.

If you complete the assessment and determine that you are a safe driver, it may be beneficial to enroll in a driving course for older adults. The AAA offers an online defensive driving course for drivers age 55+ that, upon completion, may result in a reduction in your auto insurance premiums. The Washington State Department of Licensing offers additional information.

Car sharing
ZipCar and Car2Go are examples of private enterprises that provide alternatives to car ownership. Members can book a car online as little as 30 minutes in advance and then pay by the minute, the hour, or the day, depending on the company. Available cars are generally located within walking distance.

The King County Mobility Coalition produced a map of travel options, with common destinations throughout the county, with information about accessible transportation options. To request a printed copy, e-mail mobility@hope-link.org.

For more information
If you have questions about local transportation options that the links above haven't answered, please remember that you have several free, professional and confidential resources at your disposal. Let them help you leave your car at home!

Author Irene Stewart is a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. She participates in King County Mobility Coalition, Eastside Easy Rider Collaborative, and Puget Sound Regional Council Special Needs Transportation Committee meetings on a regular basis.