According to AARP, 88 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes as long as they can. But where are those homes? In auto-dependent suburbs. That’s where most Baby Boomers grew up, in the postwar era, and that’s where most of them have stayed – even as the largest (and longest-living) generation ever enters its golden years.
However, more than 20 percent of seniors (age 65 and up) do not drive at all. In the spread-out, transit-poor communities where many of them live, seniors who don’t drive miss out on countless opportunities. According to a report released today by Transportation for America called “Aging in Place: Stuck Without Options”:
Absent access to affordable travel options, seniors face isolation, a reduced quality of life and possible economic hardship. A 2004 study found that 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.
The Center for Neighborhood Technology conducted the analysis for the T4A report, finding that a large proportion of seniors lack transit access, and looking down the road just a few short years to 2015, when 15.5 million seniors will find themselves without transportation options.
“My generation grew up and reared our 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, former mayor of Meridian, Mississippi and co-chair of Transportation for America.
When seniors can’t get out, the local economy suffers too. John Robert Smith says when he was mayor, Meridian set a goal of recruiting retirees.
“Retirees bring their retirement funds into your communities, deposit them in your banks; they support your school systems but they don’t make demands on your school systems, they don’t put children in the school system; they are law-abiding, good citizens so they don’t have that impact on your police department, they’re just an all around benefit and plus for your community,” Smith said.
Even seniors who can still drive might find that they feel nervous driving after dark, or that their reflexes are slowing down. Still others start looking for other transportation options because their fixed incomes can’t absorb high gas prices.