Transit Tuesday: Dawna Bell

Portland, Oregon

My name is Dawna Bell, and my parents live two hours away in West Olympia, Washington. None of us considered what it would be like to live out of town without access to a bus line as they aged. My parents are close to 90 and of a generation defined by their independence. It is difficult for my Mom to ask for help because she doesn’t want to impose on anyone, including me.  

Like many, my parents moved out of the city to the suburbs because it was peaceful and quiet. Initially, it was fine; it was only fifteen minutes into town to go grocery shopping, concerts, medical appointments, and to see friends.  My mom was never a confident driver, but she did drive, but gave it up as she aged. Dad always did the majority of the driving and Mom still depends on him to get around.  Recently my dad has had some issues with dementia, and although he is slowing down, he remains Mom’s primary source of transportation. 

The bus operates in town but does not go to my parent’s suburban neighborhood at the edge of town. My mom says my dad is fine driving. I asked at what point will you know he is not ok? She answered that, “as long as he can drive and not get lost or find the car in the parking lot”, it will be fine. The next day, I was with my Dad, and unsolicited, he shared that he sometimes gets lost or can’t find the car in the parking lot – his words. I asked him, “Does that make you nervous about driving?” he responded, “ I have to drive because your mom depends on me to go to places.” I shared this information with my mom, who responded, “ he is ok if I go with him.”   

Like all of us do when we age, my dad sleeps more during the day. He has more dementia issues, so he sleeps much more and is less and less available. With no access to a bus, she has to wait for him to be awake or have the energy to run errands. Occasionally tags along with a neighbor. I feel lucky to have the time to offer support; recently, I traveled up from Portland to do chores like taking the dog to get his nails cut. But the reality is that the lack of transportation shapes my mom’s ability to get safely to medical appointments; to do basic errands like grocery shopping; she loves music but can’t get out to a concert or a movie, her social life is constrained, and she is more and more isolated. 

This has made me think about my retirement choices. My partner and I would like to move to Port Townsend, a small town on the Washington peninsula. We looked at a great place, but I noticed it was not supported by a bus route, so we may take it off our list. I’ve been checking with the Port Townsend transit system to see if they plan to expand to more rural areas. 

We know that more people are retiring, and many would like to step away from urban congestion and live a quieter life aging in place. We need to expand transit operations to support expanded bus routes. This is a critical investment that will help people age in place.

About Transit Stories

Transit Stories” is a series of real-life experiences with public transit in the U.S. We feature the first-hand experience of public transit riders from across the country. From large cities to small towns, we will document the experiences of the millions of users of busses, trains, ferries, and other forms of public transit in the US. Public transit is essential to our communities, to cooling the planet, to advancing equity. Transit is essential to our very lives.

There is a unique opportunity for the country to make a historic investment in public transit funding to help the country build back better. 

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