As part of its ongoing series “Aging in New Jersey,” NorthJersey.com and the USA Today Network New Jersey today examine how New Jersey seniors struggle to give up their car keys even when it’s clear they no longer can drive safely — in a state that doesn’t make it easy to find alternatives.
The issue also underscores that many of New Jersey’s suburbs are not built for seniors. The lack of easily accessible transit — and even sidewalks, in some communities — turn single-family homes into islands and cars into rafts.
Learning to use public transit
But transforming the classic postwar sprawling suburb is not an easy task. Along with the emphasis on cars, much of North and Central Jersey’s mass transit system is designed to get commuters into and out of New York City, not from one place in New Jersey to another.
As a result, many older New Jerseyans who were never commuters have little to no experience riding on an NJ Transit bus or train.
“I joke that in New York you have to learn how to use a car and in New Jersey you actually have to learn how to use public transportation,” said Karen Alexander, managing director of the New Jersey Travel Independence Program at Rutgers University.
Alexander and her colleagues teach seniors how to use NJ Transit. They have plotted destinations along the 73 bus line in Morris and Essex counties. They educate them that fares are half-off for those 62 years and older, and that buses are equipped with lifts to help get them on and off. They have taken groups on train rides and shown them how to transfer at Secaucus Junction or get into Manhattan via Hoboken Terminal.
“It’s an antidote to isolation,” Alexander said. “It gives people the tools to make a different map in their head of where they might want to go and how to get there. They begin to see the world through transit — and many realize they can do a lot without a car.”