Good afternoon, Chairman Reed, Ranking Member Allard, and other distinguished Members of the Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation. My name is Lavada DeSalles. I serve as a member of the AARP Board of Directors. I appreciate this opportunity to present our views regarding transit programs for older Americans – offered in support of the subcommittee’s development of legislation to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, TEA-21.
In the course of this series of hearings, the subcommittee has heard testimony regarding older persons’ growing need for transit services. This need will become particularly strong in the years ahead. The United States is an aging nation. By 2030, nearly every fifth person in the United States will be age 65 and older. In the next two decades, the fastest growing age segment will be persons over the age of 85. This age segment is projected to reach approximately 6.5 million by the year 2020, compared with 4 million in 1998. Tomorrow’s seniors will have been accustomed to a high level of mobility and will expect that level of mobility to continue into their later years.
Quality of Life
Basic transportation is a given for most of us, and like the utilities that we take for granted, we don’t take notice until a power shortage, water or gas shutoff upsets our expectation. Many older adults, however, know too well that without a transportation connection many community services and social activities are simply nonexistent for them. From our research, we know that mobility is a critical element of overall life satisfaction and is strongly linked to feelings of independence. The corollary lack of satisfaction in the absence of mobility is illustrated by a comment from an AARP focus group participant living in the suburbs. The participant related his experience that his and his wife’s "world had been reduced to one square mile" since he had stopped driving.
Aging In Place
Transportation is a crucial component of the infrastructure of a livable community for older Americans who are aging in place. According to the 2000 Census, only 4.2 percent of persons 65 and older moved during the previous year, compared to 16.6 percent of younger persons. When elderly persons do move, they tend to move within the same county. This phenomenon of aging in place is occurring to a large degree in the suburbs. In the year 2000, 56 percent of elderly persons lived in suburban areas, 23 percent in rural areas, and 21 percent in central cities. This geographic distribution has consequences for the modes of travel available to individuals. Public transit is limited in suburban and rural areas. As a result, residents must rely heavily on the private automobile.
Use of Public Transportation
As people age, they make fewer trips in their community. Over half of those age 75 and above take fewer than five trips out of their homes per week, compared to one-third of those ages 50 to 74 who take fewer than five trips out their homes per week, according to AARP’s "Understanding Senior Transportation Survey (2002)." This reduction in travel is related in large part to driving cessation.
Currently, use of public transportation by older persons is limited. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (Omnibus Survey, May 2002), 11 percent of all persons age 65 and older, drivers and nondrivers alike, reported using public transportation the previous month. However, among nondrivers 75 years of age and older, 14 percent identify public transportation as their primary mode, and nearly 20 percent say they use public transportation on a monthly basis, according to the Understanding Senior Transportation Survey. This suggests that public transportation services can play an important role in enhancing mobility for these nondrivers.
AARP’s Understanding Senior Transportation Survey also reported several problems respondents identified that made them less likely to use public transportation. These include concerns about crime, unavailable destinations, and trip length of time.
Interaction of Health and Community Mobility
Not surprisingly, the Understanding Senior Transportation report found that driving is the usual mode of transportation for adults age 50 and older, although the percentage of those who are licensed and who drive regularly declines slowly up to age 85, after which there is a substantial reduction in driving. Driving, as well as use of other modes of transportation, is greatly affected by an individual’s health and functioning. Indeed, the same report showed that health and functional status, not chronological age, is the strongest predictor of transportation mobility. While over 90 percent of healthy persons age 75 and older drive, fewer than two-thirds of those in poor health still drive.
Further, individuals age 85 and older with excellent health and functional status are more mobile than their younger counterparts with poor health and functional status. The wide variation of health and functioning among the elderly suggests the need for a family of transportation services to meet diverse needs.
TEA-21 Transit Investments
TEA-21 has provided a stable, dependable funding stream for transit programs. With the increase in transit investments under TEA-21, transit ridership has seen strong growth. AARP believes significant additional investment in transit is needed to reach those older persons now and in the future for whom transit is unavailable or inadequate to meet their transportation needs.
Need for Greater Transit Coordination
Older persons may be served by several transportation programs. While some use regular fixed route service in urbanized areas, others rely on the nonurbanized, elderly and disabled, and complementary ADA paratransit services. Human services transportation programs have developed to serve the needs of clients who, for the most part, were otherwise unable to access services. Over the years, this has resulted in a multiplicity of transportation operations performing similar services independently in the same communities. Studies by AARP and others have found that coordination efforts can provide many benefits, including lower trip costs, extended hours of service, and a greater choice of destinations. An excellent example may be found in the Chairman’s home state of Rhode Island, where the paratransit system, "the RIde," is coordinated statewide and is nationally recognized.
Greater Funding for Formula Grant Programs
AARP supports greater funding for the Sections 5310 elderly and disabled and 5311 nonurbanized formula programs, in particular. The Section 5310 program provides capital assistance for specialized transportation for the elderly and persons with disabilities. While Section 5310 could benefit from greater coordination with other human services and public transit services, nevertheless the program serves needs that would not be met otherwise. Funding for Section 5310, however, is woefully inadequate for a national program. The need is great as well for increased funding for the Section 5311 nonurbanized program, which provides operating and capital assistance to transit providers in rural areas. Nearly one-third of trips provided by Section 5311 transit operators are made by elderly persons. Many of these individuals are disabled as well. Still, fully 41 percent of persons age 60 and above live in rural areas that do not have transit services. Many of these trips provide vital linkages to medical care, as outpatient care takes a more prominent role in health care delivery.
Greater Resources Needed for ADA Paratransit
Another area in need of increased funding is ADA paratransit. More than half of those who qualify for ADA transportation are age 65 or older. AARP is concerned by reports that some systems may use the eligibility screening process to reduce demand for ADA service. While AARP believes that it is quite appropriate for persons who can use fixed-route buses to do so, it is unfair to make eligibility too strict, denying eligibility to persons needing services, as a strategy to reduce costs. The concern with growing ADA paratransit demand has also contributed to widely varying eligibility standards in transit systems across the country. We believe there should be greater consistency in determining eligibility, as well as more attention to standards of service. Progress could be made towards achieving each of these objectives through enhanced subsidies to public transportation providers. Subsidies should be targeted to assisting providers to meet the real needs of their customers with disabilities, irrespective of age.
Engaging the Planning Process to Meet the Transportation Needs of Older Persons
Finally, we recognize that many of the changes required to meet the mobility challenges of older persons now and in the future will have to occur at the local level. A few metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), such as the Maricopa Association of Governments in Arizona, have met this challenge head on by developing a comprehensive plan on aging and mobility. Maricopa is an exception, however. MPOs across the country must become more aware of the transportation needs of their elderly residents, and integrate approaches to meeting these needs into their planning processes. One viable approach some communities have taken is to encourage land uses, such as mixed-use developments, that bring together housing for the elderly, retail, health, transportation and social services facilities. The reauthorization of TEA-21 presents an opportunity to consider the value of formally incorporating a targeted assessment of senior transportation concerns into the planning process. Another way to increase attention to senior transportation needs would be to ensure that older persons are represented on MPOs.
In sum, AARP believes that transportation choices are essential in maintaining older persons’ independence and quality of life. The transportation needs of older Americans are great and growing, and will require multiple solutions at all levels of government going forward. TEA-21 offers a solid foundation on which to build greater mobility for all older Americans. Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. For the committee’s review, I have attached summaries of the AARP research reports mentioned in my testimony. I welcome any questions you may have.
Home | Menu | Links | Info | Chairman's Page