In 2001, only 4% of seniors in Orange County, Calif., were riding buses, compared to the 10% national average, according to an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) ridership survey.
Additional research was done by the OCTA to find out why seniors weren’t using the system. “We found that seniors just didn’t know how to use it and were intimidated, or afraid,” says Dana Wiemiller, OCTA’s community transportation coordinator.
In response, Wiemiller says the OCTA developed a marketing program to help increase senior ridership. The program, launched in 2002, focuses on introducing seniors who are still mobile to fixed-route service and training them to use it.
The OCTA set aside approximately $200,000 in its marketing budget to launch the program, which included development of collateral materials, such as customized maps for each city, and advertising in senior publications to create awareness.
Start with the basics
Wiemiller spent the past two years visiting senior centers and living facilities throughout the county to market the program. During these visits, she gives a presentation that includes training on using the system’s bus book and trip planning. “I first give them basic information about the system, and how the bus service works,” she says.
Seniors are given a packet that includes a bus book, system maps and a training guide. “Everything in our presentation is included in the training guide,” she says. She walks seniors through the bus book to teach them the basics of the timetables, to show how they can find what time a particular bus arrives and which stop to go to. Wiemiller also walks seniors through a sample trip using a trip-planning worksheet. “I stress to seniors that planning ahead is the key to a successful trip,” she says.
Customized maps for each city highlight key senior destinations such as malls or hospitals. “We try to tailor the training for each group to the city,” Wiemiller says.
Promote trip planning
Wiemiller also distributes information about the OCTA’s Website and its trip planner. But she doesn’t dwell on this high-tech option. “We’ve found that a lot of seniors don’t use the Internet, and would rather talk to someone,” she says.
Because of this, Wiemiller emphasizes the customer service phone number and its availability to hearing-impaired customers. “All they have to do is give [the customer service representative] their information and they can get help planning their trip.”
The second part of the program involves training on a bus. “We take them onboard and show them all of the things we discussed during the workshop,” Wiemiller says. The seniors are taught how to buy a pass and how to swipe it on the electronic readers on the bus.
Expand the comfort zone
During the onboard training, seniors are taken for a quick trip as key destinations are pointed out. Wiemiller says she has tried to package the service as an option for certain trips seniors may not feel comfortable making on their own anymore, or if traffic and parking problems are involved.
Since implementation of the program, senior ridership on the OCTA’s fixed-route service has reached 10%, a 6% increase. “A couple of the senior centers are planning an outing using public transportation. And that’s exactly what we want them to do,” Wiemiller says. “We want to demystify transit for seniors so they can see how it can work for them.”