Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gleaning the Evidence: Needs and Preferences of the Aging Population

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes a study of ADA paratransit services that does more than list the many challenges. In ADA Paratransit Services: Demand Has Increased, but Little is Known about Compliance, there is a litany of woes - increased ridership for service that is expensive to provide, ride shedding (organizations or agencies that once did certain kinds of trips no longer do so), and increased fuel and labor costs. The gap between fares and costs per trip are huge for ADA paratransit. 

Some of the report focuses on the:
[t]ypes of actions agencies are taking include coordinating efforts among various service providers, transitioning passengers from ADA paratransit to fixed-route service, improving the accessibility of fixed-route service, ensuring more accurate eligibility determinations, realigning paratransit service with minimum ADA paratransit requirements, and improving technology for scheduling and dispatch.
What is wonderful about the report is the depth of coverage of the strategies transit systems are employing and the issues over which transit systems have no control, but which have huge consequences. Travel training is discussed as one of the strategies that both improves service for individuals and helps reduce expenses.

[MAX rapid bus in Kansas City, MO.]

My Dog Is Old and He Loves His New Doggy Bed - So Much for Cliches

Also examining the problem of a population that has higher-than-average mobility problems is the report Meeting Transportation Needs in an Aging-Friendly Community from the AARP Livable Communities project. It assumes that like the cliche, older people are unable to adopt new habits. It argues that older people do not give up their cars easily and that when they do, it is only to sit as a passenger in someone else's car. However true those conclusions may be for current seniors and while the report concedes that the quality of public transportation in a given area has much to do with travel habits, even the travel habits of seniors, the data is not examined for the differences between today's boomers and their elders; nor does it examine the increasing popularity of transit, biking and walking.

Another, also recent, AARP publication, Impact of Boomers on U.S. Travel, 1969-2009, takes a somewhat different perspective, acknowledging the dynamic role of the boomer generation and finding in the evidence an uptick since 1995 in boomer use of transit. So one must ask - and this report does - whether, just as this generation transformed what it meant to be politically involved, how to form and navigate long-term relationships, and even the way we view generations, they will now transform what it means to be a senior citizen and how people who are older get around.

[Fountain near Plaza area of Kansas City, MO. The MAX runs right by here.]

The 1969-2009 study aptly points out that no matter the travel habits of this large cohort, they will be making medical trips in record numbers (though, with the recession, the number of total medical trips has leveled). The study also astutely observes that even if boomers will be exhibiting different travel behavior than their predecessors, where they live will influence their mobility options and habits. Raised on Leave it to Beaver and the Brady Bunch, this is primarily a suburban generation.
Many baby boomers have lived their entire lives in the suburbs—born and raised there, raised their children there, and most will age in place there. The place where people live as they age is critical to the kind of support networks and mobility options available to them at home.
Traveling Generation

The study shows that boomers are travelers, more mobile than both their elders and subsequent generations. This is partly due to women's participation in the workforce and a generation in which women's driving habits resembled those of men. As a generation, they drove their children to more activities and included record numbers of active, traveling, individuals without children.

Now, boomers are leading in other respects. "As the baby boomer cohort ages, retired couples and single-person households are growing faster than households with children." Likewise, multi-generational households have become more common as children move back home after college and as many boomers take care of their parents and aging relatives, though, the study points out, these phenomena represent a small percentage of the population and do not appear to have altered travel numbers or statistics.

Other Shifts with Children Grown

Now that most boomers no longer have young children or teenagers at home, there has been a downward trend in "maintenance trips," those necessary to sustain a household and transport people to regularly scheduled events, such as grocery shopping, daycare and after-school activities.
Vehicle travel for the baby boomers increased greatly in the 1980s and early 1990s, and then started to decline after 1995. The trends in transit use show a steady increase in the number of transit trips per person as the Baby Boom Generation ages, and a noticeable increase in 2009. Note that transit use by all ages increased during the 2008–2009 NHTS data collection period, as the economic recession was beginning and gas prices first spiked up to four dollars a gallon.
Like the aforementioned AARP report, this study shows that the primary mode of travel for boomers has been and continues to be the automobile. What neither publication discusses is the higher divorce rate and common situation of adult family members living at great distances from one another, which have the potential to significantly change the experience of old age from dependence primarily on a family network to dependence on a network of friends and community services, public and private. While most boomers will probably continue to age in the suburban communities in which they have lived for years "policymakers are carefully watching whether the baby boomers who chose to move will consider transportation issues in making their decision."

[A quiet, mid-day Union Station in Kansas City, MO.]

The study concludes with recommendations for greater coordination in medical transportation, safety education and technology for drivers, and innovative alternative transportation options on the spectrum between the single occupancy vehicle and conventional transit. In terms of how this generation perceives itself, "[t]echnologies and services will need to be for everyone, without the stigma of being for older people."

What Works Well for those in the Middle

With attention going to new urbanist projects in large cities and the challenges for transit and alternative transportation in rural areas, attention is not as frequently paid to the needs and challenges of our nation's medium-size cities. Reconnecting America's new report, Midsize Cities on the Move, is a welcome addition that discusses BRT, rapid bus, streetcars and their related street infrastructure in the context of smaller cities and satellite cities. Who championed the projects, the partnerships that pushed and now maintain them, and where the funding came from is discussed in detail.

Presentation Opportunity

Transportation is an important issue to the community of people with disabilities. The National Council on Independent Living is inviting proposals for presentations at its annual conference, to be held in Washington, DC n July 24-27, 2013. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 8, 2013. More details are available at