TRENTON NJ – As the first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year, seniors in many areas of the state, including Middlesex County, 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, 67 percent ages 65 and older in Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report.
The number of seniors in Middlesex/Somerset/Hunterdon with poor access to public transit options is expected to increase from 85,372 in 2000 to 118,315 in 2015, a 39 percent increase.
By the completion of the Baby Boom retirement surge in 2015, projections estimate over 70 million Americans will be senior citizens.
“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 Jen Kim, advocate with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG).
“Public transportation is a critical service for senior citizens in New Jersey,” said state Senator Loretta Weinberg, chair of the Committee on Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens.
“The report draws troubling conclusions about the lack of transportation services that will be available as the population ages and seniors remain in the community,” she said. “Access to public transportation is key to allowing seniors to maintain their independence and quality of life.”
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.
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 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.
“As many people get older, they might not be able to drive, but they do not want to lose their independence or change their lifestyle,” said Senator Sean T. Kean, member of both the Transportation and Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens committees. “I have seen firsthand the importance of accessible, reliable public transportation and need for seniors to be self reliant, mobile and active.”
The analysis, conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, evaluates metro areas within each of five size categories.
It shows that in just four years, in metros of comparable size to the Middlesex/Somerset/Hunterdon county area, 55 percent of seniors will live in neighborhoods with poor access to options other than driving.
In that size category, other areas included Newark, Monmouth and Ocean, and Bergen and Passaic counties. Nationally, San Francisco ranked the worst in this category.
“It is more important than ever that we address the needs of these and other seniors by working to expand transportation options in communities throughout the nation, and by ensuring that all transit stops can be reached safely on foot,” said Matthew Norris, South Jersey Advocate for Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Metro Atlanta ranks the worst for metro populations 3 million and over. Kansas City tops the list for metros of 1- to 3 million, followed by Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham.
In smaller areas like Hamilton, Ohio, 100 percent of seniors will live without access to public transportation. These conditions present a daunting challenge to local communities as a larger share of their population demands increased mobility options.
With only a small portion of older Americans relocating, researchers already are seeing the emergence of so-called “naturally occurring retirement communities,” as seniors age in place. That phenomenon is growing as baby boomers turn 65.
Across the country today, 79 percent of seniors age 65 and older live in suburban or rural communities that are car-dependent.
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 fueling a vehicle rises, many older Americans who can still drive nonetheless will be looking for lower-cost options.
“Our elected officials here in New Jersey need to make sure that seniors don’t end up stuck in life as they drive less, “ said Kim. “Older Americans should remain mobile, active and independent. That’s going to require better alternatives to driving.”
· Increase funding for improved service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;
· Provide funding and incentives for innovative practices among transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to serve seniors;
· 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.
The report is produced by Transportation for America, a coalition of more than 500 groups working on transportation reform today. To view the full report and to see the extended rankings, please click [here].