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In Brief: Transportation and Older Persons: Perceptions and Preferences

Transportation provides the link between home and community and serves as the bridge to the goods, services, and opportunities for social engagement so crucial to successful and happy aging. Understanding the perceptions and preferences of older persons regarding their transportation is critical to developing policy that facilitates mobility. Dr. Joseph Coughlin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted focus groups and personal interviews to explore the opinions of drivers and non-drivers in this age group, and prepared this report on Transportation and Older Persons: Perceptions and Preferences.* The report examines the value and role of transportation in daily life; decisions about making trips and the influence of health on these decisions; and transportation alternatives and how older persons travel when their customary transportation is unavailable.

Several themes emerged from the focus groups and interviews:

  • strong preference for automobile-based transport and explicit reservations about each alternative to driving, but willingness to use such alternatives, if available;
  • perception of reliability, convenience, spontaneity, personal security, and flexibility as the attributes that make automobiles preferable;
  • preference for rides from friends and family, but a dislike of the feelings of dependency or obligation created by having to ask for a ride;
  • influence of opportunities for socializing on trip-making decisions; and
  • lack of information about community transportation resources among suburbanites.

The results of focus groups and interviews suggest some implication for the direction of policy development. These policies would:

  • facilitate safe driving as persons age (for example, improving road design or tailoring driver education to the needs of older drivers);
  • facilitate the transition from driving to non-driving;
  • develop alternatives to driving, including public transportation, that incorporate more of the positive attributes of the automobile;
  • encourage ride-giving by friends and family;
  • expand dissemination of information on community resources; and
  • encourage development of taxi services that are more customer-friendly.


* AARP Public Policy Institute Issue Paper #2001-05

Prepared by Audrey Straight, AARP Public Policy Institute
March 2001
©2001 AARP
May be copied only for noncommercial purposes and with attribution; permission required for all other purposes.
Public Policy Institute, AARP, 601 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20049

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