Meeting the mobility needs of older people

Older people reflect the diversity of the general population but, because of their life stage, have different travel and mobility needs and aspirations to other age groups. Their needs may vary depending on their age, health, lifestyle, residential location and stage of life.

The projected growth in the older population is more than double that of the growth in younger age groups throughout NSW. Population ageing is particularly pronounced in the rural and regional areas of the state.

Transport for NSW also acknowledges the special role to be played by the transport sector in strengthening Aboriginal communities particularly for older Aboriginal people. Initiatives into the future will focus on transport improvements to connect Aboriginal communities and older Aboriginal people to  employment, recreation and  health services. This connection provides further opportunities for people in Aboriginal communities to access sporting, cultural and social events as well as meet family and community obligations.

Transport solutions for an ageing population will need to fully consider the diversity that exists among older people to ensure they can enjoy the benefits of longevity.

Aspects associated with longevity need to be considered in the future design and operation of transport services in NSW. For example, as the population ages, the need to cater for customers with illnesses such as dementia to maintain social connectivity will significantly increase.

An important starting point is to understand what older people value in relation to their day to day transport. Findings from customer research and case studies internationally demonstrate that these requirements are remarkably similar around the world.

What matters to older customers:

Our customer research and consultations told us that older people want many of the same things as other public transport customers.

They are interested in:

  • better public transport infrastructure and assets
  • better connectivity, accessibility and comfort
  • more flexibility and commuter choice
  • higher frequency of services throughout the day
  • better management of disruptions
  • safety, affordability and the provision of customer service.

Consistent with research conducted in Europe and in Singapore, our older customers have some common characteristics.  In general, they:

  • are not regular public transport users and regard cars as their most important transport mode
  • are not planning for when they can no longer drive
  • use new technologies, including real-time travel information, differently from younger customers
  • prefer walking and buses when they are less active
  • expect that specialist transport services will be available when they need them.

Social profile of NSW’s older population

In NSW, more than 1.2 million persons are aged 65 and  over.

Maintaining mobility throughout later life

Personal mobility generally declines with advanced age and this affects the level of independence that older people can enjoy. The NSW Ageing Strategy 2016-2020 is underpinned by a life stages approach that recognises people experience the ageing process in different ways, at different times. Building on this approach, the Older Persons Mobility Plan 2018-2022 uses these life stages to guide and inform actions that support the mobility of older people in NSW as they age.

Older people’s mobility can be understood as progressing through three broad life stages set out in the following table on page 8.

These stages can overlap and are not determined by chronological age. Rather, they show the continuum of changing needs as people age and the associated changes in patterns of use across public, community and private transport.

A life-stage approach to transport service delivery

Active ageing

Most commonly in the immediate pre and post retirement age when older people are relatively healthy and they are typically more active in the community.

People can generally travel independently, with majority driving, walking and/or using public transport without difficulty.

Active transport including walking and cycling are encouraged as transport options for active older people.

The focus of transport options includes maintaining active ageing as long as possible and not having mobility curtailed as a result of transport services and supporting infrastructure that do not reflect needs during this stage.

The “chauffeuring burden” of older people in this age group, transporting their parents who are frail or grandchildren, increases the car dependency of this age group.

Self- modified activity

Increased likelihood of disability, associated with injury or illness

which may require modification of daily activities.

From a transport perspective, people may take fewer trips, travel shorter distances, choose different travel modes and travel at certain times e.g. not at night. Older drivers aged 75 years and older are also subject to annual medical review to maintain a drivers licence.

Safe walking environments and clear signage become increasingly important during this phase.

Onset of dementia or cognitive impairment may become apparent for some older people during this stage.

People are relatively mobile even though they may have entered the Aged Care system and be receiving some assistance with daily living in their own homes.

Supported living

Many people will require some assistance with their mobility for specific activities, such as shopping or getting to and from medical appointments.

People who find the use of public transport difficult or are no longer driving may seek assisted transport services, such as community transport or taxis. There may also be additional transport support provided by family and friends.

Connection to transport continues to play an important part in supporting older people to remain engaged in their local community.