Aging Society Alters Transportation Landscape
In 2000, 35 million Americans, or 12.4 percent of the total U.S. population, were over age 65, and almost 4.5 million (or 1.6 percent of the total population) were over age 85. By 2030, the number of older Americans will more than double; 9 million alone will be over age 85. Almost all of those seniors will have been licensed drivers for most of their lives, including many seniors too disabled to walk far or use conventional public transportation. Seniors in the future will be even more dependent on the car than today's elderly.These unprecedented demographic changes have rarely received the attention they deserve because there are so many myths about how most older Americans live. Public policy discussions assume that either elderly people need substantial government assistance and many publicly provided services or they have no unmet needs and require little governmental attention. In fact, most older Americans lead complicated lives that rarely place them on either end of the spectrum. Many older people drive but still face mobility barriers, or they suffer from physical or medical problems but still seek an active community life. Equally important, the elderly are a significant and growing component of many of the transportation problems we face as a nationfrom metropolitan decentralization to air pollution, environmental degradation, and congestionand they eventually suffer disproportionately from those very problems. To address both the mobility needs of the elderly and the important societal problems to which they contribute, we must refocus and redirect a wide range of public policies to respond to the complicated opportunities and constraints older people face today.The reauthorization of the federal transportation law, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), presents an excellent opportunity for Congress to respond directly to the diverse mobility needs of the elderly. This brief challenges the easy assumptions that underlie most policy debates on transportation and the elderly, it describes how an aging society adds to a range of transportation problems, and it discusses special approaches and solutions necessary to meet the mobility needs of over 70 million seniors in the coming decades.
Thanks to Elena Sheridan