Transportation Advocate Mim Hawley Passes Away

We are sad to share the news that Mim Hawley died earlier this month.

Mim was chair of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area‘s Transportation Committee from 2009 to 2013, after having served on the Berkeley City Council (District 5), AC Transit’s Board of Directors, and the Berkeley Transportation Commission. She was also a past president of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley-Albany-Emeryville.

In remembrance, we are posting below a short audio recording of her speaking at a 2011 LWVBA event that was co-sponsored by LWVBAE. Entitled “Senior Mobility and the Silver Tsunami,” it featured policy experts and service providers discussing the importance of meeting the transportation needs of the Bay Area’s rapidly growing elderly population. Mim moderated the event, and opened the proceedings with these words on the critical role seniors play in our communities; the sentiment is fitting, given the work she herself put in to try to make the world a better place:

 

A full description of the event may be found in this Bay Area Monitor article:

League Holds Senior Mobility Forum (originally published October 1, 2011)

By Alec MacDonald

Rosie the Riveter earned her retirement, and today she’s trying to enjoy it.

Of the thousands of women who labored in Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards during World War II, a few still live in the vicinity. Their pioneering effort made them historic icons of strength and determination, but now, deep into their golden years, they could use a helping hand.

Sam Casas said he’s glad to lend that hand. As paratransit coordinator for the City of Richmond, part of his job entails meeting the transportation needs of the elderly — including some Rosies, he revealed.

“They’ve done their patriotic duty,” Casas declared.

For all the people he assists, historic icons or not, “I feel a senior who is 65 years or older has paid their dues,” he said. He explained that this attitude motivates him to find ways to keep them mobile, remarking, “That’s how passionate I feel about the services we provide for our folks.”

Casas spoke as one of eight expert panelists at a recent educational forum entitled “Senior Mobility and the Silver Tsunami” held in the Berkeley Public Library on September 21. Co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area and the League of Women Voters of Berkeley/Albany/Emeryville, the event addressed a mounting challenge confronting this region and the nation at large: meeting the transportation demands of a sky-rocketing elderly population.

By 2020, the number of seniors in the Bay Area will increase by 35 percent from the 2010 census as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age. Often referred to as the “silver tsunami,” this impending demographic shift may necessitate widespread adjustments across many sectors of society. A reevaluation of transportation in particular will be required, given that aging drivers eventually face the prospect of giving up their car keys, leading to potentially devastating isolation for those who live in neighborhoods lacking alternatives to auto travel.

Citing AARP research on the subject, panelist Shannon Tracey noted that “seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family.” The field organizer for Oakland-based nonprofit TransForm went on to assert about such trips, “Those are very important pieces of continuing to have a meaningful life and also continuing to have a healthy life. And those are things that we should be paying attention to when we’re looking at our transportation system.”

When a group Tracey collaborates with did look at the transportation system, it found that more than 15.5 million seniors will live in communities with inadequate access by 2015. Transportation for America, a national coalition with hundreds of partners seeking transportation reform, released its findings this past summer in the report Aging in Place, Stuck without Options. The report ranked metropolitan areas across the country based on the percentage of seniors underserved by public transportation both now and in the years to come.

“Our national rankings show that we’re in a really good spot here in the Bay Area,” Tracey said, but she cautioned, “We are still looking at significant percentages of seniors that will have poor access to public transit in the future.” Those percentages for individuals age 65 to 79? For 2015, the report forecasts 12 percent in San Francisco, 15 percent in San Jose, and 18 percent in Oakland. That’s more than 130,000 people — a large number, but one that accounts for just a sliver of the region’s square mileage.

Service providers across the Bay Area aim to keep these figures as low as possible. At the forum, representatives from several providers in the East Bay joined Richmond’s Casas to talk about strategies for advancing this goal.

Both the cities of Richmond and Berkeley offer van rides for passengers with wheelchairs, as well as taxi scrip programs. The latter allows qualified participants to pay for standard taxi fare using certificates called scrip that cab drivers can later redeem for payment. Richmond’s program sells subsidized scrip, essentially cutting fares in half, while Berkeley grants a limited amount of free scrip on a monthly basis. Berkeley’s Community Services and Administration Manager Drew King mentioned that his city connects people to the many senior centers around town via shuttles, and Casas put in that Richmond has shuttles as well, but for rental to assisted living facilities that wish to take residents on group outings.

While municipalities strive to enhance senior mobility in these ways, King commented, “I don’t believe we have the resources to meet the needs for everybody.” He emphasized a multifaceted approach that shares responsibility and considers “how we can use things like volunteer driver programs and working with other agencies and groups within the community to meet the need.”

Panelist Andy Gaines described one particular volunteer driver program sponsored by Ashby Village, a new local nonprofit situated within “a national movement” which views independent living as “a resource that we want to cultivate.” The organization’s members receive a variety of benefits, but its executive director divulged that the most popular has been the ability to request rides from a corps of vetted volunteer drivers. Gaines added that Ashby Village has been exploring partnerships with other entities to “combine our resources so that we can more effectively serve people who are aging.”

On the topic of resources, panelist Krystle Pasco brought with her a broad listing of those available to transportation providers in Alameda County. In addition to this toolkit, the outreach coordinator for the Alameda County Transportation Commission furnished copies of various other publications she regularly distributes in her role promoting paratransit education. Pasco also took the opportunity to showcase two of her agency’s free transportation services, one for patients discharged from participating hospitals, and another for wheelchair and scooter owners whose devices malfunction.

For all the specialized services highlighted by panelists, everyone in the room understood that fixed route transit moves a much greater volume of seniors at a much cheaper cost per rider. Therefore, the responsibility for handling the silver tsunami lies predominantly with agencies like AC Transit.

“We’ve taken steps in the last couple years to get ahead of this wave,” affirmed panelist Mallory Nestor-Brush, accessibility services manager for the bus operator. “Our goal is to preserve paratransit for folks who truly need it,” she said in reference to East Bay Paratransit, the supplementary service run cooperatively by her agency and BART, but she nonetheless prioritized the larger effort to “encourage folks to use our fixed route services.”

In order to further accommodate seniors on regular bus lines, AC Transit hopes to emphasize safety and availability of information, Nestor-Brush explained. As examples, she pointed to modifications in driver training, and to outreach targeting older riders — many of whom have never depended on bus travel before — that should better enable them to navigate the system. She also repeatedly beseeched the forum audience to attend monthly meetings of the agency’s accessibility advisory committee in order to weigh in on policy decisions.

“It’s really important that you do have your voices be heard,” she avowed.

Panelist Bonnie Nelson similarly asked attendees to get involved. The founding principal of the transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates keyed in on the public’s role in procuring financial support for the various mobility options discussed at the forum. Specifically, she encouraged the audience to participate in upcoming workshops pertaining to possible augmentation of Measure B, a sales tax mechanism that in part pays for senior services in Alameda County.

“At the same time that we are seeing the senior population begin to really escalate, we are seeing revenues decline from virtually every funding source,” Nelson observed, “so I feel that funding will be the biggest challenge that we face as we’re looking at population needs increasing.”

While monetary concerns did hang heavy over the conversation, panelists assumed a positive attitude toward the future. Elizabeth Deakin, professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, set this upbeat tone as she stressed the value of collaboration for overcoming economic obstacles and other difficulties. She endorsed networking and data sharing to help advocates advance best practices, and mentioned that graduate students in her department could be worthy recruits for problem solving. Deakin also compelled the League of Women Voters to stay active on this front.

As she said, “I think there’s some tremendous opportunities for all of us to work together, not just for seniors, but for the whole population to make sure that there’s good transit service for everybody.”

 

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