As Years Go By

Dec. 10, 2012
The aging population is increasing the need for balanced investments in various transportation options.

As the Rolling Stones head out on their 50-year celebration tour, the 74 million boomers who aged along with the Stones might be listening to the same music but making different choices in transportation. The impact of these choices on public transportation is uncertain, given that behavior of baby boomers is somewhat unpredictable.

According to the 2009 National Household Transportation Survey (NHTP), over the next 15 years the percentage of the population over 65 is expected to grow by 60 percent. Although cars will continue to be the primary means of transportation — with walking as the second choice — in the past decade this cohort has increased its use of transit by 40 percent for overall trips taken. For a generation that previously chose cars and SUVs over buses and trains, this change is noteworthy.

The shifting trends among this large and aging demographic group point to the need for multi-modal planning with specific considerations for seniors. A recent report on travel patterns of older adults by the AARP Public Policy Institute concluded that we need to move from just increasing road capacity to more balanced investments in transportation to “serve transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers of all ages and abilities.”

Older women, who currently drive half the miles of older men, need public transit options that are safe and accessible to reduce the risk of social isolation. The report noted the value of efforts directed at encouraging mobility for seniors by use of retro-reflective pavement paint, clear signs and improved lighting.

Investment in public transportation, as well as for cyclists and pedestrians, has led to increased participation in these modes by seniors. The challenge is anticipating the modes of conveyance millions of travelers will choose as driving rates decrease across all ages. Seniors — the baby boomers — will redefine mobility as they’ve done over the past 50 years with nearly everything else.

Let’s be sure everyone can make it to their doctor’s appointment, bingo game, museum, library, shopping mall, health club, or rock concert by whatever means they prefer: conveniently and safely.