Arizona’s Seniors Will Face Poor Mobility Options

Media Contacts
Jason Donofrio

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

By 2015, at least 56 percent of Phoenix-area residents ages 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent, a new 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.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas 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. It shows that in just four years, 56% percent of seniors in Phoenix, 49% of the seniors in Tucson, and 57% of the seniors in Flagstaff will live in neighborhoods with poor access to options other than driving. In the Phoenix area, it is expected that by 2015, 247,977 seniors will not have good access to transit. These conditions present a daunting challenge to Arizona’s communities as a larger share of their population demands increased mobility options.

“This report shows that a significant segment of our population – one that heavily relies on public transportation – currently doesn’t have good access to transit and that problem is only going to get worse,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. In the next twenty years, the number of Arizonans aged 65 and older is expected to grow by more than 150 percent.

Such a small percentage of older American actually relocate that researchers already are seeing the emergence of so-called “naturally occurring retirement communities.” That phenomenon is growing as baby boomers begin to turn 65.

“We are living longer and eventually age-related impairments force us to give up driving.  Accessible, affordable public transportation is the key.  It allows us to stay in our homes, to stay in our own neighborhoods, and to be near our friends so that we are not forced to have to move away.  This is what people want as we age,” said Steve Jennings, AARP Arizona Advocacy Director, “Public transportation to which people can walk, and which does not cost too much is what makes staying in our neighborhoods possible.”

“The baby boom generation grew up and reared their own children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would be able to drive an automobile,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of Transportation for America. “What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive for everything? That’s one of the questions we set out to answer in this report.”

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, 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.

“Our elected officials here in Arizona need to make sure that seniors don’t end up stuck in life as they drive less,” said Unrein. “Older Arizonans should be able to remain mobile, active and independent. That’s going to require alternatives to driving.”

Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines a number of policy recommendations:

  • Increase funding support for communities looking to improve service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;
  • Provide funding and incentives for transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to engage in innovative practices;
  • Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;
  • Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to “flex” a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;
  • Include a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.

To view the full report and to see the extended rankings, please visit Transportation for America’s website.

– 30 –