The Impact of Transportation Access on Health and Wellness

by Empish Thomas

Empish standing at a street corner, white cane in hand

Medical Doctor Moves Away

A few weeks ago I got some disappointing news from my neurologist. I was told that she was leaving the medical center she practiced at and moving across town. I was deeply saddened and in shock. I really enjoyed the rapport I had with this doctor. She understood my medical needs and was sensitive to my visual impairment and transportation challenges. Now, I would have to start all over again looking for a new neurologist closer to home. This situation and similar ones were discussed at a conference I attended this summer called "Rides to Wellness." It was an all-day event where people from the transportation and medical community got together to discuss problems and solutions on how transportation impacts health and wellness.

I attended the event because in the Atlanta-Metro area where I live the population is growing, but public transportation has not kept up. As a result, it is taking longer and longer to get around town to accomplish basic daily tasks like working, shopping, eating out, and of course, medical appointments. As a result, I have been strategic in trying to keep my doctors as close to my home as possible in order to shorten my commute. So even if public transportation is not working, I can take Uber or Lyft, and it will not be so expensive.

Missing Medical Appointments Because of Transportation

During the conference, there was a panel discussion with people who discussed missing doctor appointments because they either lacked transportation, didn’t know how to use it, or didn’t have the money to pay for the commute. These challenges impact one’s overall health and ability to be well and physically fit. If you are having problems getting to a doctor, it has a trickle-down effect that can impair accessing information, getting a prescription, conducting medical tests, and attending follow-ups.

When I worked at a vision rehabilitation center, I scheduled clients for our low vision clinic. Many times the client would have to turn down the appointment because they had no transportation to our location. Even though their eye doctor highly recommended coming to have a low vision evaluation and obtaining recommendations of aids and devices, it was to no avail. Sometimes I was able to set up the appointment only for the client to call back later to cancel because the ride they thought they had fell through. Or, in what we thought were some dangerous cases, the clients would drive themselves to the appointments. This was an on-going problem for which we, unfortunately, had little to no solution because these clients lived off the bus line and many, many miles away. In a situation like this, a person with a visual impairment can easily lose independence and access to the things they need to be healthy and well.

Transportation Impacts Fitness and Healthy Food

Empish on a home treadmill

At the conference, we also discussed health and fitness. Transportation to recreational activities, parks, and gyms impacts your health too. I remember when I first purchased my home, I didn’t notice until later that there were no parks, gyms, or fitness centers close by. To get any physical activity, I realized I had to venture far away from home or create a personal gym, which is what I ended up doing. I was fortunate to have the resources to do that. So today, I have a treadmill and recumbent bike along with hand weights and a floor mat. Also, I don’t live in a food desert or have to travel more than a mile or two to get fresh produce and healthy food. There are many grocery store options close to my home and a couple even deliver. But recently, a couple of major stores closed a little farther away, and this has had a major impact on people who depended on them.


So, what are possible solutions? That was the last part of the event that we discussed. We sat at our tables brainstorming ideas for tangible solutions. The Rides to Wellness program is a federally funded initiative and is temporary. The goal is to increase access to non-emergency healthcare services and to promote partnerships across the health and transportation sector demonstrating the return on investment for the partnerships and developing investments for community-based solutions.

At my table, we talked about growing more partnerships with local and state government officials. We felt it was important to get our political officials involved in this process as taxpayers and voters that transportation and wellness are critical to our communities. Other tables came up with media campaigns, community advocacy efforts, and exploring alternative transportation like biking and shared ride programs. I am learning to use online shopping options as a partial solution.

Find Out More

Read about the Rides to Wellness Initiatives

Find out about driving and transportation alternatives and finding rides when you can’t drive

Check out the Independent Transportation Network

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