Lack of Transit Threatens Seniors Print E-mail
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Tom Murphy

As 77 million baby boomers age into their senior years, many will become isolated in their homes, unable to drive and too far from transit.

The problem is daunting, according to a national study by Transportation for America, a coalition of environmental, planning and transportation groups. The study, called "Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options," said the lack of transit has a devastating impact on the health and welfare of older Americans.

Worst 10 Cities for Transit 
2015 - By Percent of Seniors with Poor Access

Hamilton-Middletown, Ohio 100
Montgomery, Ala. 99
Hickory-Morganton, NC 95
Atlanta 90
Augusta-Aiken, SC 90
Waterbury, Conn. 90
Fort Pierce-Pt. St. Lucie, Fla. 89
Kansas City, Mo. 88
Greenville, NC 87
Hourna, La. 87
Merced, Calif. 86
Source: Transportation for America Study

While friends and family may offer rides to some, others may opt to walk on pedestrian-friendly streets or trails, but only reliable transit can help seniors travel with few restrictions, the report found.

"Absent access to affordable travel options, seniors face isolation, a reduced quality of life and possible economic hardship," it said, citing a 2004 analysis that found those over 65 without cars, made 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends.

The study looked at 241 metropolitan areas with populations of 65,000 or more and found - just within those communities - 11.5 million seniors had "poor" transit access back in 2000. But 2015, the report projects that number will grow to 15.5 million.  The report doesn't look beyond 2015, but predicts the situation will worsen through 2030 when the last boomers turn 65.5.

Even in New York, with its comprehensive system of buses and subways, 101,159 seniors are likely to have poor transportation options by 2015, the report said. 


The worst big city in the study's rankings was Atlanta, where 99 percent of seniors will have poor transit options by 2015. The best was the San Francisco Bay area, where only 12 percent lacked reasonable travel options thanks to the region's network of streetcars, buses, ferries, light rail, subways and, of course, cable cars.

Report Recommendations
In rural and suburban areas, the situation is most dire, with 79 percent of seniors living in car-dependent communities, the report said, citing a 2003 study by the Brookings Institution.

The report offers a set of proposals: 

  • Increase funding for buses, trains, vanpools, ridesharing and transit, including support for operations and maintenance;
  • Pay for improvement with cash for the federal motor fuel tax;
  • Provide incentives for transit operators to try innovative practices, including public-private partnerships;
  • Involve seniors in transit planning efforts;
  • Give states flexibility to use federal highway funds for transit;
  • Establish a "complete street" policy to make streets friendly to people of all ages and abilities.

"The federal government must take the lead in spurring innovation and coordination and providing some of the financial resources necessary to meet the mobility needs of older Americans," the report said. "Failure to act quickly will lock in a future that leaves millions of seniors isolated and without options."