Jeanie Newcome, a driver of 10 years for the Franklin Transit Authority, has seen the service grow “by leaps and bounds.” Photo by Joe Buglewicz.

By Hollie Deese

After Chuck Cavalier, 70, had a stroke in 2003, he was unable to drive for a long time. He moved to Franklin from California five years ago to be near his children and has regained enough movement that he can drive again, on a limited basis.

He said he hated the idea of being dependent on his children for rides, and taxis and ride-share services were expensive. Then he learned about a local service that provides transportation for just 50 cents per fixed-route ride, and $2 per on-demand trip one way, for people 65 and older.

“Weekly I go to outpatient physical therapy, and I have told a number of the patients there, especially the stroke survivors, how nice the service is,” Cavalier said. “Some of them have started taking the bus as well.”

The Franklin Transit Authority provides the service that Cavalier and other older residents use. In early November, it added new fixed routes, more frequent service and 100 stops.

“We have always been dedicated to providing affordable, safe, timely public transportation for our senior citizens, because that is one of the fastest-growing sectors,” said Debbie Henry, executive director of the Transportation Management Association Group, a public-private partnership that operates and manages alternative modes of transportation in Tennessee.

“Folks are living longer, and they want and deserve to be actively engaged in their communities,” she said.

A comprehensive plan
Other communities are looking to improve their transit systems. Early this year, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry plans to ask the Metro Council to put a comprehensive transit plan, Let’s Move Nashville, on the ballot for a countywide vote in May.

The plan is a $5.2 billion investment that would be funded by a variety of fees, including business, sales and tourism taxes. Backed by a coalition of groups, the proposal includes a new 26-mile light-rail system, corridors with bus-only lanes, and a big increase in service and frequency.

AARP Tennessee will be working with city officials to support Let’s Move Nashville, said Jim Foulds, a former urban planner and member of the organization’s Executive Council.

Improved transportation is especially important to older residents, he said. “I’m 70 and I can still drive, but that’s going to change in the next five to 10 years. If you live in a place that doesn’t have good mass transit, hopefully this plan will provide that.”

The Nashville plan would build on the state’s recent IMPROVE Act. In addition to raising taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, which will help clear a backlog of nearly 1,000 road projects, it allowed cities to consider local options for mass transit funding.

In some communities that may mean more funding for ride-share services. Cavalier said the friendships he has developed with drivers in Franklin are as beneficial as the affordable rides to physical therapy.

“You can see these people are independent,” said driver Jeanie Newcome, 67, a 10-year veteran with Franklin Transit.

“They don’t have to call their children from their jobs. All they have to do is call our dispatcher, set up an appointment; we go get them and take them to wherever they need to go.”

Hollie Deese is a writer living in Gallatin, Tenn.

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