A less mobile future for America’s baby boomers

A new report by Transportation for America, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options: Fixing the Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation, investigates the growing problem of senior citizens who, having lived in car-dependent communities and “aged in place,” face isolation, economic hardship, and a reduced quality of life due to a lack of affordable transportation options. Older adults tend to have lower incomes and their ability to drive tends to diminish as they age. Without affordable transportation options, seniors’ ability to fulfill their basic needs and maintain contact with friends and family are severely hindered.

The degree to which limited transportation options affect seniors varies greatly depending on where they live in the country as well as their location within a metropolitan area. The report ranks metropolitan areas with populations of 65,000 or more by seniors’ access to transit and projects that the number of Americans age 65 and older living with poor transit access will rise to 15.5 million in 2015 from an estimated 11.5 million in 2000. Atlanta ranked poorest of all large metropolitan areas over 3 million, and by 2015 an estimated 90 percent of Atlanta’s senior citizens will be without adequate access to transit.

Although, the report does not include specific projections beyond 2015, it is expected that the population of seniors living without adequate access to transit will continue to rise through at least 2030. As more seniors remain in their suburban, rural, and exurban communities as they age and create “naturally occurring retirement communities,” the mismatch between the demand for transportation options and existing transit services is expected to grow more severe. This trend will play out in metropolitan areas of all sizes.

The report offers a set of policy recommendations for the next federal transportation bill to meet the challenge of improving transit access for seniors, including:

  • Increase dedicated funding for public transportation;
  • Continue to provide transit funding from the Highway Trust Fund;
  • Provide funding and incentives to promote innovative best practices in transit;
  • Encourage government and transit providers to engage seniors in developing plans to meet the mobility needs of seniors;
  • Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to use a portion of their highway funds for transit projects and programs; and
  • Develop a complete streets policy.

These recommendations are a step to improving the mobility of seniors as well as those waiting in the wings.