Nikkei Senior Gardens’ new passenger bus is just one month old, but it is already hitting the road around Los Angeles almost daily. With a smoother ride and space for up to nine passengers, the new bus is everything and more to the residents at this retirement community in Arleta.

The bus, with its new ramp and convenient seating, does much more than take residents to and from doctor appointments, the bank, or grocery shopping, says Michael Motoyasu, executive director of Nikkei Senior Gardens. Removing the barrier that once kept older residents from leaving the facility, the bus allows them to visit museums, attend events, and take advantage of other opportunities to connect with the community and engage with others.

Michael says the bus was made possible through funding from the Keiro grant and helped Nikkei Senior Gardens address their critical transportation needs.

Island Fever

“Sometimes I think this place can feel like an island for our residents,” explains Michael. “You could call it island fever.” Only a handful of residents have a car, and few drive them regularly. With limited transportation options, the residents are sometimes confined to the facility grounds and, Michael says, “you can feel locked in here.”

While the bus does not fix all of Nikkei Senior Gardens’ transportation challenges, it does provide more opportunities for residents to go places.

Residents can now easily arrange rides to the bank or to their doctor, three days a week. They can attend more community outings, like visiting the library or museum. And, with more seating than the previous van, more residents can go at one time — making outings more social and enjoyable.

For Michael, there are still other barriers to overcome before this van will be in full use, as residents have enryo. “I think the bus is still new to residents, and they feel bad asking for rides right now. But it’s here for them. And that’s important,” Michael says. 

The Long Road to Mobility

While the residents enjoy it now – the journey to get the bus was not as smooth as the bus they now enjoy.

It took a year to find the right van company, after filtering through lists of recommendations, visits, phone calls and meetings.

“I really had to kick the tires before we chose a company,” Michael admits. He eventually found a company in Indiana that flew him to their facility to see the vehicle. Michael checked every feature on the vehicle. He drove the vehicle, then had someone else drive it so he could experience the comfort from the back passenger seats. He even measured the height of the seats, to make sure they matched the ideal height he’d researched for his residents.

“It had to measure 17 inches from the floor,” he says. “We were determined to get it right.” 

After hours of contemplation and ensuring that all of the residents’ specifications and needs were met, the trip ended with a successful order placement.

The bus has practical and useful features like the user-friendly seatbelts, and a ramp that helps residents get in and out of the bus. The vehicle is easy to drive, and has a back-up camera to help with parking. And yes, Michael adds — it still has that new-car smell.

Most importantly, it helps the residents get out into the community, exposing them to experiences both new and nostalgic, while giving them the freedom to explore outside and beyond the walls at Nikkei Senior Gardens.