- Our Center
- Graduate Certificate
- Funding/ Assistantships
- Graduate Research
- Job Opportunities
Critical Issues in Transportation for Older Adults
- By Jody E Ciano
What happens when driving is no longer safe to do because of decreased cognitive abilities? That was the conundrum presented by Jennifer Fitch, a graduate student at UVM and Project Manager for VTrans, and Alex Hilshey, TRC Graduate Scholar, in their final presentation for graduate class TRC312: Critical Issues in Transportation. The course, taught by Prof. Brian Lee, is an introduction to the complex interconnection of engineering, planning, public policy, and science that characterize transportation systems, mobility problems and solutions, and is a required graduate course for the Certificate of Graduate Study in Sustainable Transportation Systems and Mobility.
By 2025, 25% of the US population will be 65 years of age or older. Fitch and Hilshey presented the mobility challenges and options facing this segment of the population. With driving abilities decreasing as age increases, independence becomes vulnerable especially with the current limited mobility options for non-drivers. Often aware of decreased ability, the older adult driver avoids rush hour traffic, driving at night and on highways. Most Americans are accustomed to the convenience of the automobile and current infrastructure heavily favors this travel mode. In the desire to maintain a familiar lifestyle, automobiles allow this population self-reliance and freedom from isolation.
Highlight from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey Fact Sheet published by AARP revealed that the use of public transportation has increased in all age groups, but challenges exist for using this travel mode by older adults. Seventy-five percent of older Americans live in rural and suburban areas and 34% of Americans do not have bus service available. Furthermore, most Americans will not use public transportation if it is more than two miles from their home. Older adults must take into consideration the physical hurdles of getting to the bus, climbing on and off it, and face the challenges of waiting outside and making connections. Walking is a popular mode of travel for the older adult, and the option of bicycling also is available, but both these modes have its own set of challenges, especially for those with physical limitations.
In identifying and assessing the critical issues in transportation for the older adult, Fitch and Hilshey’s presentation addressed ways for improving driving safety through programs such as the AARP Driver Safety Program, and multimodal transportation solutions geared for this population. As the driving population ages, transportation planning and policy makers will need to provide affordable alternative modes for continued safe, independent mobility for this group.