TexPIRG Education Fund
AUSTIN, TX – The first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year and seniors in Houston are in danger of being unable to get around. The largest generation in history, Boomers are also the most dependent on automobile travel. Yet by 2015, 68% of seniors ages 65 and older in the Houston area will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report.
The number of seniors in Houston with poor access to public transit options is expected to increase from 187,655 in 2000 to 372,346 in 2015, a 98 percent increase. By the completion of the Baby Boom retirement surge in, projections estimate over 70 million Americans will be senior citizens.
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, 68% of seniors in Houston, 66% percent of seniors in Dallas, 56% of seniors in Austin-San Marcos, and in 86% of seniors in Ft. Worth-Arlington area will live in neighborhoods with poor access to options other than driving. These conditions present a daunting challenge to Texas’ communities as a larger share of their population demands increased mobility options.
“It’s a tragedy that funding for public transportation is stalled when the need for public transit is set to take off with this demographic explosion,” said Melissa Cubria with the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “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.”
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.
“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 Texas need to make sure that seniors don’t end up stuck in life as they drive less,” said Cubria. “Older Texans 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.