Transportation is a vital link that connects people to their communities. Older adults need a variety of convenient and safe transportation options to get to jobs, social activities, medical appointments, and community services that support their independence. These transportation options include walking, cycling, using micromobilitySmall, very lightweight personal vehicles that typically travel under 15 MPH. They include electric bikes, scooters, and skateboards. devices, taking public transportation, ride-sharing, and driving. These options are key to creating mobility and ensuring that everyone can continue to live in their communities as they get older, particularly if they do not drive.
Our nation’s transportation policy at all levels of government must start with community engagement to understand their needs and values. It is also important to understand how our transportation investments affect population subgroups differently. For instance, our nation’s transportation policy has favored personal vehicles over other ways of getting around our communities. This has reduced mobility for those without access to a personal vehicle, such as some older adults, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. Lack of investment in infrastructure that supports alternatives to driving is especially harmful in communities of color, where African Americans and Latinos are more likely to depend on public transportation. Inadequate attention to street design can result in walking and biking not being viable alternatives to driving. Those who choose to do so in these communities may face increased injury or death. This is especially concerning for older adults, who are disproportionately represented in pedestrian fatalities.
Many older adults need specialized transportation services, such as door-to-door paratransitThe Americans with Disabilities Act requires fixed-route public transit providers to offer “complementary paratransit” to qualified people with disabilities. Door-to-door service is typically provided using wheelchair-accessible vehicles. and escorts to physician’s offices. Options must be safe, affordable, accessible, dependable, and user-friendly. They are necessary to overcome the physical limitations associated with aging.
Road safety is also critically important. For decades, fatality rates were on the decline due to effective policy, vehicle and infrastructure design, and licensing procedures. Nonetheless, in recent years, a rise in road fatality rates, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, indicates that more needs to be done. Older road users, historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, and people with low incomes bear a higher share of the harm.
In the past few years, the transportation sector has introduced innovations in vehicle technology and on-demand services, with many more on the horizon. It is imperative that public policy enable public- and private-sector investments to serve and protect all of us as we age.