My father lives by himself at home—and loves it. He enjoys being able to play guitar whenever he wants, cook nice meals for himself, and invite his neighbors over for a beer. Still, his chronic heart condition makes it hard for him to get around sometimes. Depending on how well his heart’s doing, there are periods of time (usually upwards of 6 months) where he’s not allowed to drive at all. So my dad had to make some adjustments: through some research and a bit of trial and error, he learned how to get around the city without a car. And while it took some time to get the hang of using public transit and taxis, he’s overjoyed to have the entire city open to him again.
Of course, it takes time to figure out how to navigate the Bay Area independently. Between BART, buses, Lyft, and more, it can be hard to know the ideal way to get around without a car. We invite you to explore our guide to the best options in the Bay Area, so you can help your loved one stay independent.
Bay Area Transit Options
BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit is an above-ground rail system with 45 stations and 6 lines, covering the entire Bay Area. From Pittsburg to Berkeley to Oakland to SF International Airport, BART runs through each major city, serving over 400,000 people each weekday. Green tickets are available for people over 65 years of age, providing a 62.5% discount on fares. BART is a good option if your loved one has strong eyesight and can handle being around large groups. Many older adults enjoy using BART to get around, whether going to the airport or visiting their grandchildren. Periodically, BART also offers field trips for seniors: these fun trips can help familiarize your loved one with riding BART, and let them go places with other enthusiastic riders in their age group.
- Best for: older adults who are completely mobile, in good physical and mental health, and comfortable being in large crowds.
MUNI – San Francisco’s public bus and train system is a great way to get around the city. It has a lot more stops than BART, with free transfers between buses and trains within 1.5 hours. MUNI is a good option for those traveling within the city itself (if you need to go outside the city, you’re better off taking BART). Older adults with low or moderate income can access MUNI for free using a Clipper card. Google Maps, Nextbus, and other online tools can help your loved one with trip planning, and there’s also a handy app for tech-oriented older adults who’d rather not deal with paying cash or purchasing tickets in person.
- Best for: older adults who want to go places within the city, and are able to walk from a bus stop to their destination of choice.
Paratransit Services – This site is a great resource for transportation in and around the Bay Area for people with disabilities. Paratransit Taxi & Ramp services provide rides to people using wheelchairs, and Shop-a-Round offers a shuttle service for your loved one to go grocery shopping alongside other older adults with disabilities. Paratransit aims to provide services at low costs, so check them out if you’re trying to find affordable ways to help your loved one with a disability.
- Best for: older adults with a disability or special needs who require professional assistance to help with wheelchairs and accessibility issues. Also good for meeting, and socializing with, other people.
Uber – If walking from a bus stop is taxing for your loved one, consider a rideshare service like Uber. This will ensure your loved one is driven directly to their target destination; they won’t need to walk any further or figure out more directions. In order to access Uber, riders need to use a smartphone. The sign-up procedure is straightforward, as is ordering a ride. Fares vary depending on the city, so check online for approximate rates. The payment will go through the credit card associated with your online account, so your loved one doesn’t need to worry about paying cash. Uber also offers UberASSIST, which provides assistance to older adults.
- Best for: tech-savvy older adults who are mobile, and prefer a private driver. Use UberASSIST if your aging loved one needs help with opening and closing doors, or uses a wheelchair.
Lyft – Another ridesharing service, Lyft is a great alternative to Uber. Lyft also offers transportation for seniors, such as their program Lyft For Good. This free service helps older adults get to medical appointments. The company is also using new technology that lets third parties (like medical offices) request a ride for an older adult. Lyft can get your loved one anywhere in the Bay Area, and has been shown by some studies to be generally cheaper than Uber in San Francisco.
- Best for: older adults who want a more cost-effective alternative to Uber, or free transportation to medical appointments.
SilverRide – This is a useful car service for seniors who are more comfortable using a regular phone, instead of an app, to book rides. Because SilverRide only offers transportation for seniors, you can expect professional staff familiar with helping older adults and creating an enjoyable experience for them. Family members often phone SilverRide to set up regular or one-off rides for their loved one; reservations can be made for anywhere in the Bay Area. Simply call their phone number and choose one of their services. Your loved one doesn’t need to worry about paying in cash, since fees are charged to the credit card on file.
- Best for: older adults who might need a bit of extra help, or care from drivers who are professionally trained to offer proper assistance and compassion.
Home Care Professional – If your loved one already has a professional caregiver, they may be able to help with driving and errands during their visit. And if a change in circumstances has you thinking about hiring a caregiver, this might be even more reason to do so. Professional home care services ensure that your loved one is taken care of properly: having a caregiver provide transportation helps your loved one stay mobile—and stress-free.
- Best for: older adults who need professional assistance beyond the ride itself; also for those who benefit from their driver being a familiar face.
Helping Your Loved One with Transit Decisions
With all of these resources for transportation for seniors, one important question remains: how can you and your loved one figure out what’s best for them—together? The best thing you can do is to help your aging loved one understand all of their options; the more information they have, the more empowered they’ll feel to try something that works for them. Set up a time to chat with your loved one about this. Come prepared with a simple list, and clearly explain the choices. Consider their personality type and what modes might suit them best. For example, if your aging loved one gets easily overwhelmed, suggest private ride options instead of public transit. Here are some tips for communicating compassionately with your loved one.
- Explain how to use each mode clearly, and suggest how different options can work for different situations.
- After going over each choice, listen to their questions. Use this time to gauge your loved one’s body language, facial expressions, and verbal responses. Answer any questions they have, and encourage them to share fears and anxieties with you. Listen to their worries; offer reassurance.
- Offer to accompany them on all rides until they’re comfortable going alone.
- Get them set up with everything they need, whether it’s an Uber app, a Green Card, or a Clipper Card. Help them plan routes, print maps, or write down bus numbers—whatever your loved one needs to feel confident in their transit choice.
As they begin to take trips on their own, always check in with them afterward to see how their experience went. Use this as an opportunity to sit down, have tea, and talk empathetically with your loved one. Understanding how to get around on their own ensures that a large part of their independence remains intact. Between having a series of compassionate discussions and accompanying them on their first few trips, you’ll help your aging loved one become independently mobile. With San Francisco’s numerous transportation services, your loved one can stay active in this incredible city—and keep exploring life to their heart’s desire.
With so many ways to stay independent while aging in place, Institute on Aging is proud to offer you and your loved one a wide variety of supportive resources. Connect with us today to learn more about how to provide your loved one with the care they need—and the independence they deserve.