Impact Stories

Empowering seniors to hang up the keys and explore alternative modes of transportation

United Way BC is partnering with BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation) to celebrate senior advocates of transportation alternatives during BC Seniors’ Week 2023

As we navigate the journey of aging, there may come a time when we contemplate hanging up the car keys. It’s understandable that this thought can be accompanied by some distress, as driving often represents independence, freedom, and a sense of identity.

However, it’s important to recognize that circumstances change as we age, and age-related medical conditions or disabilities may arise, necessitating a shift in our transportation choices. Rather than perceiving this as a limitation, it can be an opportunity to explore new modes of transportation that suit our evolving needs.

In British Columbia, the number of individuals aged 65 and above continues to rise, and by 2041, it is projected to exceed 1.6 million. By sharing the stories and experiences of senior advocates who have successfully embraced alternative modes of transportation, we hope to inspire others to embark on this transformative journey. 

So let us embrace the idea of exploring transportation alternatives before hanging up our keys, knowing that the path we choose can lead to new adventures, enhanced connections, and a continued sense of freedom. Together, we can pave the way for a vibrant and inclusive future for seniors in British Columbia.

United efforts to support new chapter of mobility

Non-profit organizations like United Way BC, BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation), and other community partners play a crucial role in assisting seniors in finding alternative transportation options that are environmentally friendly, such as carpools and community shuttle buses. 

Senior-serving agencies recognize the emotional and practical challenges posed by driving cessation and help facilitate a smooth transition to a new chapter of mobility and independence.

Seniors on the Move is an initiative aimed to increase transportation options for older adults in BC so they can continue to lead a full life after they stop driving. To commemorate BC Seniors’ Week 2023, which runs from June 5-11, United Way BC and BEST  have teamed up with the Ask Friendship Society, South Vancouver Neighboorhood House, Richmond Care, Richmond Gives, Seniors Services Society of BC, Dunbar Residents’ Association, West End Community Centre Association, Vancouver Cycling Without Age Society, Westside Seniors Hub, SHARE Family and Community Services, Brightside Community Homes Foundation, and Collingwood Neighbourhood House, with the generous support of Vancouver Coastal Health and Vantage Point, to profile and celebrate community champions who are advocates for alternative forms of transportation.

‘Multimodal Mary’ makes strides

Mary Wilson is an 84-year-old pedestrian advocate from New Westminster, BC. Her nickname is “multimodal Mary,” but she is best known for improving walkability in local neighbourhoods.

Mary Wilson is pictured on 12th Street in New Westminster, BC. Mary is a tireless advocate for pedestrian-friendly streets and alleyways.

One of Mary’s first successes involved petitioning the city to install mosaic tiles along 12th Street and 7th Ave. The beautification project was the first of its kind in the city back in 2011 and has been replicated since.

“It took me years of campaigning, I persisted… and I finally found the person who said yes!” she says.

Mary decided she wanted to continue making an impact, so she got onto the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee and started to make strides.

“There needs to be a voice at this table speaking up for pedestrians. That was me. I appointed myself, and I got there,” she says. 

 “There was no organization for walkers, no voice for walkers, and I parachuted in there and said, ‘I am going to be at the table, I am going to speak for walkers,’ and that was a major success, that was something that had not happened before.”

Mary went on to bring Jane’s Walk to New West, a free neighbourhood walk, named after activist Jane Jacobs, who promoted the importance of building cities that are pedestrian friendly.

“That raises the profile of walking in the community. It keeps people recognizing that walkers are a component of the transportation system,” Mary says.

Mary even co-founded the New Westminster and Burnaby Walkers Caucus in 2016, a local citizen’s group dedicated to improving walkability in the community.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your inspiring story, and encouraging others to tie up their laces and explore local neighbourhoods by foot. You are strengthening vital connections!

David vs. Goliath to make roads safer

David Dunne, a Vancouver resident, dedicated his career to road safety at ICBC and the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, taking on the laws governing drivers. 

He was instrumental in advocating for enhanced child passenger safety regulations and the expanded use of booster seats for older children.

“I take pride in the fact that, I know we saved lives, I know we helped increase the safety for children who were being transported in automobiles and the legacy continues,” David says.

David also spearheaded a public awareness campaign to inform older adults about when they should make the difficult decision to hang up the keys and transition to alternative forms of transportation.

“Let’s provide some alternatives that are really senior-friendly and are focused on their pride, their self-worth, their dignity, because those are critical factors when someone is making the transition,” David says. “We reached out to seniors through workshops that we held with community partners and agencies. We provided resources, materials, and training, and they could hold local workshops for seniors in their community to educate seniors and help them make decisions about their own transportation needs.”

David also informed family doctors about how to initiate conversations regarding driving cessation and worked with DriveABLE, which was a tool used to identify cognitively impaired drivers.

Empowering doctors to refer to an evidence-based screening and assessment process increased the number of re-examinations exponentially, he says.

Thank you, David, for your tireless dedication and commitment to making our roads safer for all drivers.

Mario gives up the kart for public transit 

75-year-old Mario Gregorio of Burnaby, BC, opts for public transit instead of a car to get around.

Mario is an accessibility advocate and sits on the Transit Users’ Advisory Committee (UAC) at TransLink to advise on improvements to the public transportation network. 

“Transportation is the key link for people to be mobile, to move around, and more and more, studies have shown that people who move around live longer. Socializing is part of getting a better life for seniors, so we need to make mobility easier for them,” Mario says.

“We have so many high-rises and we need to bring people down to the street level and socialize with other people and make public spaces available to them through public transportation, because most of them no longer drive.”

Mario Gregorio is pictured on public transit with his backpack adorned with a tag that reads “please be patient” with the disability logo to encourage other users to accommodate his needs.

Mario travels around with a travel tag attached to his backpack that reads “please offer me a seat” with the disability logo. He says many transit users are receptive to his subtle request.

Collectively, the group is advocating for improved signage in elevators to make it easier for people of diverse multi-ethnic backgrounds to navigate the transit system, more accessible ramps, and making buses easier to use for the blind and hearing impaired. 

Mario says it’s particularly important for people with disabilities to be able to easily use the transit network to stay connected to their community: improving mental health and well-being.

Thank you, Mario, for sharing your story and helping seniors stay active, connected and engaged! 

Seniors on the Move

The Seniors on the Move media campaign was made possible by Vantage Point’s Change Network program aimed to advance advocacy and policy-change efforts of nonprofits.

Seniors on the Move is a three-year systems-change project led by seniors to improve and increase transportation options for older adults across the province. The project is funded by United Way BC, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.

In partnership with TransLink, HandyDART and ICBC, BEST also offers a variety of workshops, including transit training, focused on helping seniors get around Metro Vancouver without relying on vehicle ownership for every trip. Learn more here

United Way BC is part of a provincial working group on seniors’ transportation that is developing recommendations for the CBSS Leadership Council which will be designed to increase the number of age-friendly transportation options in BC, at this moment of population aging.

BC211 is another great resource for drivers hanging up the keys. It is an information and referral source that connects older adults with transportation resources.

In places where public transit is unavailable or does not provide adequate service, older adults can often rely on community-based supports like the Better at Home program.

Volunteer drivers in this program provide transportation to older adults for their medical appointments, family visits, grocery shopping, and other trips that are important for sustaining social connectedness and inclusion in the community. Learn more here.