As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for demand response transit will only grow. When will municipalities start paying attention?
Given the current real estate boom, there’s no shortage of social media commentary from members of Generations X, Y, and Z about how easy it was for a generation of baby boomers to buy their homes. But as Boomers turn into seniors, those homes come with a heavy burden. Turns out most seniors don’t need four bedrooms, three baths, and a two-car garage. What they do need is a way to travel to the store or doctor without driving.
And that need is only going to get more dire. An estimated 600K US adults stop driving each year. Many more endanger their health when they get behind the wheel, or when they forgo medical appointments because they don’t have a ride.
Like the Silent Generation before them, Baby Boomers have a strong need for independence, and it makes sense that most embrace the concept of “aging in place.” A 2021 AARP survey found that 77 percent of adults aged 50 and older wanted to remain at home as long as possible. (Of course, for some seniors this isn’t a choice. Moving from their homes is simply unaffordable.)
Unfortunately, most American neighborhoods aren’t designed for car-free living, but still assume a traditional two-parent, one wage earner arrangement. Children move away, or don’t supply grandchildren who in the past shared the burden of care. More women are in the workforce and can’t take time to shuttle elderly family members around. Today, 75% of women aged 25-54 work; 84% of them work full time. These population trends are predicted to grow: the last (2020) US Census reported the number of Americans 65 and older had the largest 10-year gain, now comprising almost 17% of the US population.
Seniors living outside of transit-rich regions are left with a patchwork of options. Uber, Lyft, and other private micro transit solutions are often too expensive for those on a fixed budget. That leaves options like conventional taxis (still expensive), Medicaid/Medicare advantage paid NEMT transportation (offering a limited number of rides), private companies, or non-profit organizations like churches. In rural areas, many of these options may not be available at all.
Some municipalities have created free or low-cost microtransit programs. However, many of these are services designed to fill a gap in public transit in getting people to work. Seniors have unique needs from workers. Those with limited mobility that does not rise to the level of a paratransit-qualifying disability may not be able to walk to a designated location for pickup, so transportation needs to be door to door (or even door through door). To be accessible, microtransit services also have to be easy to book via mobile app, website, and telephone.
These types of challenges come with a higher price tag. Door to door services require special driver training; low usage of a mobile app to schedule rides requires more customer service agents fielding calls. Seniors, many of whom are less tech savvy than the general population, or who have cognitive declines, may require extra support before adopting microtransit services, making the service not only costly, but slow to deliver a return on the investment. A municipality may begin a pilot program, but if it’s not immediately successful, be pressured to discontinue it.
Implementing microtransit services is less expensive than fixed route transportation, it takes time to research and fund. Complexities like transporting a rider through more than one transit system’s service area or complying with ADA requirements make it difficult. Unfortunately, seniors, even healthy ones, don’t want to wait for years for these programs to be implemented. Learn about the features and many benefits of on-demand transit from TransLoc.