Many older Americans have expressed a strong desire to age in place, but instead they might get stuck in place by 2015, when more than 15.5 million Americans aged 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent. There’s a huge senior mobility crisis threatening the Baby Boomer generation, a recent Transportation for America (T4 America) study finds, as high percentages of seniors in many metropolitan areas have limited transit options besides driving.
The report, titled Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, says that in four years, a staggering 90% of seniors in the Atlanta metro area will be lacking adequate transit access—the worst in any metropolitan area with a population of more than three million. The study also finds that Kansas City and Oklahoma City, with populations between one and three million, will have 88% and 86%, respectively, of seniors lacking transit access.
A significant percentage of older Americans have departed from cities in favor of suburbs, says T4 America, where the majority of residents are car-dependent. In fact, the study says that after the age of 55, only about 5% of Americans change residences, and a recent AARP poll finds that a majority of baby boomers are determined to remain in their homes and age in place.
As seniors continue to age, many are reticent to continue driving, or may no longer be able to drive. However, seniors without access to affordable travel options make 15% fewer doctor’s appointments, 59% fewer trips to go out to eat or to the store for necessary supplies, and 65% fewer trips to socialize with friends and family, the study finds. This can be unsafe, and unfortunately, says T4 America, many seniors lose their independence because of poor public transit options.
“The baby boom generation grew up and reared their own children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would be able to drive an automobile,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of T4 America. “What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive for everything? That’s one of the questions we set out to answer in this report.”
The 2011 Joint Center for Housing Studies State of the Nation’s Housing report says the number of seniors living in suburban areas will grow by millions in the next two decades, making the transportation issue something that must be addressed in the near future. In light of this upcoming predicament, the study outlined policies that would help make it possible for seniors to remain mobile and independent, including increasing funding support for communities looking to improve public transportation service, and encouraging state departments of transportation to involve seniors in developing plans to meet their mobility needs.
T4 America says Congress is preparing to adopt a new, long-term transportation authorization this summer, an important factor as state and local governments will be needing federal funding to improve transit access in their localities.
The entire Transportation for America report can be seen here.
Written by Alyssa Gerace