Nearly all older Americans say they want to live independently in their homes and communities for as long as possible. AARP believes older Americans should have that opportunity, and we have been working to ensure they do. But unless people have safe, convenient and affordable transportation options, they will be stuck at home or will be at greater risk on the roads than they need to be. Having access to transportation is critical to staying connected to family and friends and to pursuing day-to-day activities, both those that are essential and those that enhance the quality of life.
Today, too many older Americans are "aging in place" in communities where travel by car is their only transportation option. For those who do not drive (nearly 8 million people age 65 and over), there are few transportation alternatives, and fewer safe alternatives. Most depend on family and friends for rides, but may feel guilty asking for "nonessential" trips, such as to the library, a restaurant or a movie.
Public transportation is very limited or nonexistent in America's suburbs and rural areas, where most older people live, and there is no indication that the situation will improve soon. In fact, a recent study by Transportation for America finds that by 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or nonexistent. Further, 60 percent of people age 50 and over said in an AARP survey that they did not have public transportation within a 10-minute walk from their homes. And 53 percent said they did not have a sidewalk outside their home.
Over half of individuals who do not drive stay home on any given day. And even when they leave their homes, their time out tends to be limited: Compared to similar-age people who drive, 15 percent of those who don't drive make fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent make fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent make fewer trips to visit friends and family.
People who don't travel outside their homes risk social isolation. This can have serious health consequences: According to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2001, socially isolated people have a significantly elevated risk of early death.
Public transportation is essential to help older people get around in their communities, and this is increasingly important as our oldest age segments grow. By 2030, it is projected that 8.7 million Americans will be age 85 and over, and a substantial portion of them will no longer drive.
Public transportation should comprise a range of services, including fixed routes, specialized transportation, flexible routes and service routes. Volunteer driver programs, taxi vouchers and other innovative solutions tailored to community needs are also important approaches. In 2009, older adults took more than 1 billion trips on public transportation, a 55 percent increase over 2001. But millions more have no access to these services.
Congress is about to consider the authorization of a major transportation bill. AARP urges Congress to:
- Continue to include public transportation, including in rural areas, in the core transportation program.
- Dedicate increased funding for public transportation and the specialized transportation program for older adults and persons with disabilities.
- Include support for operations to help mitigate the high cost of gas and other expenses.
- Strengthen the coordination of public transportation and transportation provided by human services programs, such as agencies that provide transportation for seniors to group meals
- Ensure that older Americans have greater involvement in developing transportation plans to meet their needs.
- Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to use a portion of their highway funds for transit projects and programs.
- Include a Complete Streets policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and convenient.
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