In the greater Nashville region, more than 86 percent of older adults (approximately 150,000 senior citizens) are expected to be without adequate access to transit by 2015, according to a Transportation for America report called Aging in Place, Stuck without Options.
The report ranks metro areas of similar sizes 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. Kansas City tops the list for metros of 1-3 million, followed by Oklahoma City; Fort Worth, Texas; Nashville; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
“The fact that 150,000 seniors in the Nashville area and its surrounding counties lack access to transit is a serious problem,” Dave Keiser of Transit Now Nashville said in a release. “We need to ensure that the older generation remains connected to their communities and provide the needed resources to support transportation options for older adults.”
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, the 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.
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, Transportation for America 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.
Local entities such as the Metro Transit Authority’s AccessRide and the Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency provide on-demand services where eligible residents can schedule trips ahead of time. From 2005 to 2010, AccessRide ridership has increased 29 percent, showing the growing demand for these services, local transportation industry officials said.
“This report from Transportation for America could not be more timely,” Ed Cole, president of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, said in a release. “Identifying and developing more transportation choices for Middle Tennesseans is a critical task being undertaken by both the public and private sectors and is driven by the knowledge that our population is growing older. As the report makes clear, an open and honest search for dedicated funding of transit options at the state, local and federal levels is an important task.”
In addition to transit services, the Mayor's Office is spearheading the Nashville Livability Project that looks at how the city can address its changing demographics and aging population by addressing housing, walkability of neighborhoods and access to services such as health care and grocery stores.
In addition, the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is working to address the issues throughout the entire metropolitan area in its long-range plan.
“Over the next decade or so, the number of Middle Tennesseans age 65 years or older will grow by 50 percent,” said Michael Skipper, executive director of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the region’s transportation policy, planning and funding authority. “We must begin working on strategies that help seniors stay active and connected to the community by allowing them to age in place. There is a growing need for transportation options beyond the car — for seniors as well as other emerging segments of the population like young professionals.
Skipper said the recently adopted 2035 Regional Transportation Plan calls for a modern, robust transit service and increased support for more walkable communities.
AARP Tennessee State Director Rebecca Kelly said people want to remain in their homes as they age.
“But that isn't enough,” she said. “We also need to remain connected with our communities in order to live full, independent lives. To do that, we must have easy access to the doctor's office, the grocery store, our grandchildren’s homes. Being stuck inside, looking out a window as the world goes on around us, simply is not an option.”
Read the full report and see the extended rankings of the report here.