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Seattle – The first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year and seniors in the Puget Sound area are in danger of being unable to get around. The largest generation in history, Boomers are also the most dependent on automobile travel. Yet by 2015, many seniors ages 65 and older in the Puget Sound area will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report. Many metropolitan areas in Washington state will see over a 70% increase in the number of seniors without adequate access to transit since 2000.
“It’s a tragedy that funding for public transportation is stalled when the need for public transit is set to take off with this demographic explosion,” said Steve Breaux, public interest advocate at the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG).
By the completion of the Baby Boom retirement surge in, projections estimate over 70 million Americans will be senior citizens. In the Portland, OR- Vancouver, WA metropolitan area, the number of older adults lacking adequate access to transit is projected to increase by 70% between 2000 and 2015, from approximately 83,000 seniors to 141,000 seniors. The Richland-Kennewick-Pasco area will face a staggering 91% increase, over 5000 seniors to over 10,000 seniors. In the Bellingham region, the number of seniors with poor access to transit will increase from over 6000 seniors to over 11,000 seniors, a 74% increase. The Yakima area will face a 39% increase in seniors without adequate access to transit, from approximately 14,000 older adults to 19,000 older adults.
The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation.
By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans ages 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent by 2015, the new study shows. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.
In rural areas and smaller towns and cities, the increasing demographic strains as the baby boomers age also presents transportation challenges. Nationwide, 23% of all seniors live in rural areas. Forty percent of rural residents nationwide live in counties with no public transportation services of any kind. Seniors who live in rural areas face the same transportation needs as other seniors as they age and are increasingly unable to drive, but there often are fewer transportation options in rural areas.
One of the most common types of public transportation available in rural areas is on-demand service, where eligible residents (usually the elderly, disabled, or low-income individuals) schedule their trips to services like medical appointments ahead of time. Federal funding is available to provide rural transit service for the elderly, disabled, low-income individuals, and tribal areas, but demand for these services often outstrips available resources. Transportation for America has provided on online map showing the change in seniors’ availability to transit in the Yakima, WA region. The rural areas outside of Yakima are expected to face a sharp increase in their senior population, where there is the least access to transit.
With only a small portion of older American relocating researchers already are seeing the emergence of so-called “naturally occurring retirement communities” as seniors age in place. That phenomenon is growing as baby boomers begin to turn 65. Across the country today, 79 percent of seniors age 65 and older live in suburban or rural communities that are largely car-dependent.
“The baby boom generation grew up and reared their own children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would be able to drive an automobile,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of Transportation for America. “What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive for everything? That’s one of the questions we set out to answer in this report.”
Without access to affordable travel options, seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age, research shows. As the cost of owning and fuelling a vehicle rises, many older Americans who can still drive nonetheless will be looking for lower-cost options.
“Our elected officials here in the Puget Sound region need to make sure that seniors don’t end up stuck in life as they drive less, “ said Breaux. “Older Americans should remain mobile, active and independent. That’s going to require better alternatives to driving.”
Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines a number of policy recommendations:
Increase funding for improved service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;
Provide funding and incentives for innovative practices among transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to serve seniors;
Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;
Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to “flex” a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;
Include a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.
The report is produced by Transportation for America, a coalition of more than 500 groups working on transportation reform today. To view the full report, the Yakima map, and to see the extended rankings, please visit http://t4america.org/resources/SeniorsMobilityCrisis2011
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