Aging, Mobility, and the Model T: Approaches to Smart Community Transportation

By Freund, Katherine; Vine, Jackie | Generations, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Aging, Mobility, and the Model T: Approaches to Smart Community Transportation


Freund, Katherine, Vine, Jackie, Generations


Sharing private vehicles may solve senior mobility issues.

To the surprise of many, the need for better mobility options was the third highest policy priority among fifty key issues at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, placing ahead of Social Security and Medicare. Driving as a transportation issue placed forty-seventh (White House Conference on Aging, 2006).

By 2030, the population of adults ages 65 and older is expected to reach 71.5 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Excluding the 57 million estimated licensed drivers and the approximately 4 percent who will be living in nursing homes (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008), roughly 19 percent, or 13.9 million people, will need alternative transportation to continue living independently in 2030. This is a conservative estimate that does not include older drivers who will want alternative transportation as they self-limit driving and transition to the passenger seat.

Even now, women are currently outliving the decision to stop driving by more than a decade, and men by more than six years. More than 600,000 people ages 70 or older nationwide give up driving each year (Foley et al., 2002). The transportation issue that has for so long appeared to be aging drivers is more appropriately framed as an issue of aging and mobility-the number of older people, now and far into the future, who stop driving. What will they do for transportation?

Transportation planners tell the story of a Midwestern city that wanted to plan for its transportation future. The city leaders hired an expert to draw up the plan. The consultant calculated vehicles, energy, fuel, and environmental impact. Because this was around the turn of the century-the twentieth century-the vehicles were carriages, the energy came from horses, the fuel was hay, and the environmental impact was manure. The calculations were detailed: How many acres of farmland outside the city limits were necessary to grow the hay? How many wagons were necessary to haul the manure back to the farmlands? And how many livery stables had to be built to accommodate projected growth? It was a great plan. Then came the automobile.

This iconic planning story may be urban legend, but the moral is clear: when planning for the transportation future, look toward the horizon, not down at your feet, or you may see only the manure. It is easy to make mistakes when planning for the future if we only look at transportation in terms of modes: automobiles, trains, airplanes, horses, bicycles, dirigibles, or dogsleds. Modes are the result of the underlying forces that produce transportation-resources, logistics, technology, and policy-in the context of consumer choice and environmental constraint. When the underlying forces change, so do the modes, the consumer behavior, and the environment. There exists among these elements a dynamic relationship-a change to one reverberates among them all.

What trends can we identify in the future of transportation, and how will they influence our lives? Sustainability, both economic and environmental, will unquestionably influence the future, as will energy and information technology. The distinction between public and private transport will blur, fade, and sometimes dissolve, and transportation as a service will emerge where transportation modes now rule. Examples of these blurring trends are the nonprofit Independent Transportation Network®, a nationally affiliated volunteer transportation service for seniors, and the international for-profit service, Zipcar®, a branded car-sharing company. Both of these systems represent new ways to create community mobility by sharing private capacity. But whatever form transportation takes, the underlying elements and forces-resources, logistics, technology and policy-will always be with us, as will the essential human need to move freely and at will in a finite world (see Figure 1).

Resources refer to how we pay for our rides (and the vehicles, roads, airports, and bridges that support them), and logistics refer to how we arrange them. …

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