Transportation Challenges Can Lead to Isolation
Creative approaches help balance cutbacks
As more older adults are choosing to age at home, what happens when they can no longer drive? If they live outside a major urban area, they’ve discovered that public transportation is more of a challenge than they’d ever imagined.
“Half of all adults in the United States can’t take public transportation because it’s not available,” Virginia Dize, assistant director at the National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST), said in a workshop she presented on mobility needs at the National Home and Community Based Services Conference in September.
And with baby boomers more attached to their cars than their predecessors, these lifelong drivers are going to be “stuck” in communities that offer little in the way of public transportation, she said. “Depending on the car right now means that if you don’t drive, your chances of staying at home on any given day greatly increase,” she said. She notes that 50% of nondrivers stay home on any given day, at least in part because of a lack of transportation options. In more spread-out areas, the percentage of nondrivers staying home jumps to 61%. That translates to fewer trips to the doctor, fewer shopping or restaurant outings, and fewer visits to see friends or family or to attend church or synagogue.
And it leads to isolation and depression.
Numbers demonstrating the need are already available:
- Although the number of older drivers on the road is increasing (because of the number of baby boomers), 600,000 people age 70 and over stop driving every year.
- Twenty-one percent of those 65 and over don’t drive. Of those, 40% (each) are African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians; 16% are white.
- Sixty-four percent of those 75 and over have mobility challenges.
- Thirty-four percent of people ages 55 to 64 have a disability; the number jumps to 42% in the 65-74 age group and 64% for those 75 and over.
- Nearly 79% of those ages 70 to 84 have physical impairments.
Factor in some other sets of numbers. One is the gap between when people stop driving and their lifespan. For men, Dize reported, it’s seven years; for women, 10 years.
And then there’s the final big number: By 2030, 20% of the U.S. population is expected to be age 65 and over—that’s 70 million people—driving the need for “accessible, affordable, reliable, safe, and barrier-free” transportation.
Public transit offers its own set of challenges. Sometimes there’s no safe way to get to the bus—either there are no sidewalks or the sidewalks are damaged. There may be no shelters or seating at the bus stops. The schedules may not accommodate the needs of seniors. Dize says there need to be more bus stops, more crosswalks, and more manpower to help seniors access the transit system.