Public transportation provided along a fixed route allows people to get around by bus and rail at designated stops and specific times. It is the backbone of ensuring mobility in urban areas. Commuter trains, subways, light rail, and buses are the most common examples of this type of service.
Public transportation in the U.S. has increased in popularity in recent years for several reasons, including:
- local interest in creating and revitalizing transit station areas through good land-use policy and public and private investments;
- increasing traffic congestion in urban areas;
- increasing availability of service due to increased federal, state, and local investments; and
- heightened concerns over global warming and air pollution.
More than ten billion trips were taken on public transportation in 2015. The vast majority of these trips were on fixed-route systems. Twenty percent of people age 50 and older with access to public transportation reported having used the service during the previous month. And use of public transportation among those age 50 and older increased 43 percent between 2001 and 2009, as measured as a share of total trips.
Despite steady use, some public transportation systems present barriers to older adults. Merely getting to public transportation is a challenge for those with physical limitations. And, as with many public transportation users, people age 50 and older often cite limited frequency of available trips and extended travel time as obstacles to transit use for local trips. Other factors that may hinder transit ridership include limited service coverage, distance from the nearest public transit stop, neighborhood traffic volumes and speeds, and problems with sidewalks, streetlights, and security conditions.
Public transportation agencies can tailor their services to better meet the needs of older adults in the following ways:
- Increased service reliability—transit systems can take advantage of GPS technology and reward employees for on-time performance and proper vehicle fleet maintenance.
- Accessible vehicles and stops—low-floor buses, secure and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bus stops with benches and shelters, and proper maintenance increase the usability, safety, and security of the system.
- Neighborhood-based circulators or subscription routes—services that offer curb-to-curb service to grocery stores or malls are especially useful in neighborhoods with a high concentration of older adults.
- Accessible service information—using larger fonts on route maps and schedules, training customer-service representatives, and offering customer-oriented mobility management services increase the accessibility of service information.
- Driver and passenger training—older adults who have little or no experience using public transportation can benefit from instruction on how to use the system. This personalized approach familiarizes customers with how to read bus and train schedules, put together an itinerary, buy and use fare cards, board and exit vehicles, and otherwise navigate the system.
- Driver sensitivity training—training to increase understanding of the challenges older adults and people with disabilities face in using public transportation could improve outcomes for these populations.
One of the most popular Federal Transit Administration discretionary grant programs is the Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants, commonly known as New Starts. Eligible projects include those that operate on a separate right-of-way exclusively for public transportation or on a rail or overhead wire system (for example, light rail and streetcar systems); bus rapid-transit projects operating in mixed traffic; and projects that improve the capacity of existing systems. The maximum federal share is 80 percent, but with requests outweighing funding availability, the actual federal share has been less than 60 percent.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED ALONG FIXED ROUTES: Policy
Policymakers should expand and improve affordable and accessible public transportation programs.
- maintain and increase investment in improved public transit systems, for example, by purchasing accessible equipment and constructing comfortable, safe, and accessible transit stops and stations;
- actively promote the use of public transportation;
- require public transit systems to implement and enhance safety regulations and mechanisms;
- encourage transit authorities to reduce fares for people with disabilities and older adults with low incomes; and
- require that recipients of Community Development Block Grants and other state funds guarantee accessibility to transit and safe access to facilities in their community planning and design efforts.
- authorize and appropriate funds to provide state and local governments with incentives for expanding and improving public transportation;
- require and fund demonstration projects to promote the use of public transportation by older adults and people with disabilities;
- increase funding for public transportation to improve the quality and quantity of services for people with disabilities;
- appropriate sufficient transit funds for capital assistance, operating subsidies, specialized transit, rural assistance, employment-based transportation, and research;
- address state and local budget challenges associated with recessionary periods by providing transit systems serving large urban areas the short-term flexibility to use federal transit formula, discretionary, and stimulus funding for either capital or operating expenses; and
- provide funding for capital investments in public transportation, including for New Starts, on par with that provided for highways.
New Starts: Congress should direct the Federal Transit Administration to provide additional credit to those New Starts projects that demonstrate a commitment to providing or maintaining affordable housing within a half mile of stations. Federal funding formulas should also credit applicants for transit investment plans that are tied to transit-supportive land-use and economic-development plans.