Researchers target better transport systems for older people
Safer and more effective transport for the elderly is high on the EU agenda, and joining this effort are UK-based researchers who have identified a number of measures that could change the way older people think about transport systems. Findings of the 'Older People and Transport: Integrating Transport Planning Tools and User Needs' study were discussed at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's BA Festival of Science in Liverpool in September. Researchers from the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University said the measures would help to eliminate many of the headaches older people suffer from when dealing with the transport systems sector, including public transport. The implementation of these latest simple and affordable measures would give the elderly a much-needed boost in an era that often shuts them out; the measures could give them a new lease on life. The study suggested potential measures including, among others, introducing a system of accredited standards for taxi companies, effectively reassuring the elderly that they will be taken to their destination via the most direct route, as well as ensuring that bus interior designs provide secure handholds in the wheelchair- and buggy-storage area. A significant feature of the study was that it sought feedback from older people themselves. Public health and transport engineering experts participated in the study by offering key input. Ten focus groups were established which successfully captured the first-hand experiences and views of the 81 older people participating in the study. Another interesting facet of the study is that the researchers accompanied the elderly participants on various walks around local districts in Leeds. Doing so gave the researchers a better idea of the transport difficulties the elderly encounter on a daily basis. A proven challenge for older people is the obstacles caused by badly parked cars and hedge trimmings left on the pavement. What the researchers found at the end of the study was that the design guidance currently available to planners of transport infrastructure and services fails to consider the needs of older people. The transport planning software used by local officials when developing transport systems has restrictions, the researchers discovered. The software in particular fails to take into account the length of time older people need to complete journeys by foot and by public transport, the research team said. Training and awareness programmes for transport workers catering to the needs of the elderly would make a huge impact, said the researchers. For example, bus drivers should check that everyone is safely seated before driving off. 'Older people want to use transport systems to help them maintain their independence,' explained research coordinator Dr Greg Marsden. 'But it may only take one bad or frightening experience on a bus or crossing a road to put them off,' he added. 'Major changes are needed in the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services, with older people consulted and their needs taken more fully into account.' The research team said it will continue to investigate how older people succeed in making the transition from being dependent on cars to relying on public transport as the years advance.