Scarcity of Travel Options Affects Health, Livelihood, Economy and Much More!
To many, driving is a privilege too often take for granted. Ingrained within our culture as a rite of passage in our teenage years, driving is the primary resource for going to and from work, shopping, church, or social activities as an adult, and the last vestige of freedom many of us are unwilling to give up as we grow old.
276.1 million vehicles were registered in the U.S. in 2018 out of a population of some 325 million. That’s before discounting everyone under legal driving age.
Of course, not everyone is eligible to drive own or operate a vehicle. Some don’t drive for personal reasons, others due to legal infractions, and still others may be limited based upon physical, mental, or age limitations. The fact remains however, whether out of convenience, reliability or necessity, that we depend an awful lot on our automobile just to get around.
In a survey conducted by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, more than 20 percent of Americans age 65 and older do not drive. That percentage will only grow as boomers age (78 million) and elders (85 plus) continue to live longer. A separate report cited by Transportation for America adds to the urgency of municipalities, state, and regional planners to consider the consequences by pointing to the fact that 15.5 million Americans 65+ currently live in areas where public transportation service is either poor or nonexistent.
When you consider the significance of all this, consider too, that men typically outlive their driving days by seven years; women outlive theirs by ten. The impact this will have on health, socialization, and local economies cannot be overstated. People who don’t drive make few trips to the doctor (15%); fewer trips to shop or eat out (59%); and fewer trips to visit family and friends (65%) than those who have access to transit.
The average individual may spend anywhere from 20 to 25% of their income on transportation. That runs second only to the cost of housing. For many, despite the introduction of Uber and Lyft, public transit remains the only viable way to get around. The absence of which, is an issue we can no longer afford to ignore.
Consider for a moment what life might look like if your own transportation options were limited. How would you get to a doctor’s appointment, go grocery shopping, attend church, socialize with friends, volunteer, or possibly go to work? In each situation, is there only one source or multiple sources that you would need to rely upon for going where you want to go?
Those who do not drive say they mostly depend on family or friends for essential rides. However, among those who do, many say they feel guilty in asking for “nonessential” trips, such as to the library, a restaurant or a movie.
Public transit is more than just alternative transit, what with Uber and Lyft being available even in rural areas. Public transit encompasses a variety of venues including pedestrian right of ways, walkability, bicycle and road safety, as well as vehicular movement. Together, its relationship to land use planning, health, housing, safety, job growth, and the local economy ought not be ignored.
The amount of planning and funding for pubic transit affects where people live, work, play, interact, and even when they can get around. The future of public transit, like so many other public issues, lies in our ability to think beyond limited funding. So, what hope does the future hold?
THE GOOD NEWS!
With the advent of autonomous vehicles, visionaries anticipate these vehicles will evetually replace traditional cars. Currently drivers can manually override the autonomous system. Research shows that accidents that happened with autonomous vehicles, although rare, were all because of human, not mechanical errors, such as a driver texting with their head down. As of today, self-driving mini-vans are delivering groceries and medications on-demand to seniors and the disabled. Drones are also being tested in select cities to provide rapid delivery of donor organs.
Elon Musk leads the way, along with many other visionaries, towards realization of a Jetsons lifestyle, minus the replicator, of course, or Star Trek’s holodeck. No gateways to new dimensions in space and time, no air-pressurized flying sneakers; although we do have the Dick Tracey Apple watch. CLICK HERE to see what’s in store regarding evolving transportation solutions.
Perhaps senior communities and age-friendly urban planners will take into consideration integration of this innovative, autonomous driving technology. If you are a planner, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’ve given thought to use of autonomous vehicles for seniors and disabled citizens in the future. The March 2nd, 2016 edition of Bloomberg Business Week reports that, ” Google Thinks Self-Driving Cars Will Be Great for Stranded Seniors. Boomers Want Mobility.”
Public transit is woefully underfunded and undervalued by many legislators and community planners. You can help make a positive change! Just call or email your state representatives and urge them to fund public transit options, please.
To see how technology is affecting transportation CLICK HERE.