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Throwing grandma off the train…and under the bus

15 Jun 2011 | Posted by | 4 Comments | , ,

True to his M.O., the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole (right) resorts to name-calling, distortions and untruths to attack our report highlighting the transportation challenges facing communities with a rapidly growing number of seniors.

It is ironic to hear Randal O’Toole – who is largely a shill for the highway lobby and its pet subsidies – refer to Transportation for America as “ largely a shill for the transit industry.”

The T4America coalition is alarming to people like O’Toole because it is an unusual player in the battles over the federal transportation program: It is expressly not an industry group. Rather, it represents millions of Americans who rely on our nation’s transportation infrastructure and who want to see it preserved and expanded in ways that meet the needs of a changing nation.

The folks at AARP, who co-released the Aging in Place, Stuck without Options report with us, are hardly spokespeople for those who make and operate trains and buses. They represent the interests of Americans as we age. They actually talk to seniors to find out their problems and what they need. What they’ve learned is that people want to live in the communities where they have built social and other support networks. And like the rest of America, the vast majority live in suburbs.

But those suburbs were built with the assumption that everyone would drive for everything, regardless of their health, age, physical condition or budget. That presents a national problem when our largest ever generation, with the longest life expectancies ever, faces a future of diminished capacity for driving.

Presented with the fact of this phenomenon and its implications, O’Toole responds, “So what?” [Lets hope for his sake that his eyesight, reflexes, hearing, joints and pension never give out, or that he has plenty of kids who have nothing better to do than shuttle him around in his dotage.] O’Toole makes a big point of saying that not a lot of seniors take transit today. But that’s perfectly in line with our findings: Most live where transit service is poor or non-existent. In places that do have transit, the number of seniors taking transit is, in fact, rising, and that is accelerating as gas prices rise.

And now for O’Toole’s patent untruth:

Transportation for America wants transit agencies to extend frequent bus or rail service to every remote suburb where there might be a few people over 65.

We never said any such thing, because we don’t believe any such thing. We believe there are as many solutions as there are communities. Some inner suburbs might decide to extend an existing transit system from the urban core into their area. Some exurbs might create a call center for dial-a-ride or ride-sharing services. Some communities with an existing public transportation network might encourage senior-friendly housing in walkable neighborhoods near transit stops. That would allow people to stay in their communities, but in homes and neighborhoods where they can remain active and independent.

It is clear that cash-strapped states and localities can’t do what they need to do in the coming years without federal support. The upcoming transportation bill will allocate how our existing tax dollars are spent. We can keep spending on 1950s-era highway schemes and Bridges to Nowhere, or we can face reality and recognize the fact of aging, both of our existing infrastructure and our population, and dedicate federal support accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Wichita Liberty.


  1. Denis Eirikis

    13 years ago

    Brilliant retort to another “don’t think tank”

  2. ge13031

    13 years ago

    Please notice,  cutbacks everywhere but in road BUILDING, not maintaining, BUILDING.  meanwhile google crumbling infrastructure and see our latest nightmare..  O’Toole the Tool, doesn’t like to see MT buses but doesn’t mind 15 lane “freeways” that are used twice a day.

  3. Pingback: Transportation For America » Seniors and transit report generates widespread coverage and discussion

  4. Patricia Lawson

    13 years ago

    Great response to libertarian indifference to a significant social issue.   I lived in Europe for sixteen years and  enjoyed the lavish public transportation options for all segments of society(including seeing a six-year-old go to school alone on a city bus in Munich–could that happen in a big U.S. city?).  German highways are safer than ours, in spite of the lack of a speed limit, in part because elderly or reluctant drivers have the transportation options that allow them to stay off the road.