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The many ways to get around

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Authored by Karen Wolf-Branigin, Co-director, National Center on Senior Transportation


Transportation services are commonly cited as essential for community living. Regardless of where we live, the purpose of the trip, or the mode of travel, Americans spend significant time and money to meet their travel needs. In 2011, average U.S. consumer spending on transportation was 16% of household spending, second only to what Americans spend on housing (35%). Additionally, while all major components of household spending increased in 2011, the 8% rise in transportation spending was the largest percentage increase compared with other categories.(1)

To understand the trending topics surrounding transportation the resources to guide further research and the end notes supporting the below information, continue reading. 

Grantmakers in Aging members have generously supported local communities by providing more than $10 million in the past decade to expand local senior mobility and transportation services. This section examines the current state of senior mobility and transportation and details current trends in transportation service delivery.

Most people equate transportation with driving a personal vehicle, and Americans of all ages love their cars and trucks. Vehicle ownership has steadily increased since the 1960s and in 2010, 90% of American households owned at least one vehicle.(2) Households without vehicles are most commonly located in highly populated U.S. cities with extensive public transportation services.

The number of licensed older drivers was 34 million in 2010, a 22% increase since 2001.(3)  The 2009 National Household Transportation Survey provided a glimpse into the differences and similarities of U.S. drivers by age, gender and geographic location.(4) There are parallels in the percentage of older drivers by geographic location, but the differences between men and women are noticeable.

The percentage of male drivers in urban areas decreases with age, even though the majority of men over age 85 continues to drive. 

  • 92% of men age 65-74 drive
  • 86% of men age 75-84 drive
  • 68% of men age 85+ drive

The percentage of female drivers living in urban areas also decreases with age but the drop in women drivers over age 85 is twice that of men. 

  • 82% of women age 65-74 drive
  • 67% of women age 75-84 drive
  • 38% of women age 85+ drive

There is a rise in crash incidence for drivers over age 70 and there are more fatalities for older people than younger people, due at least in part to increased frailty.(5) Older adults involved in traffic accidents – whether pedestrians, drivers or passengers – are more likely to suffer serious injury or death than are younger people.

For many older people, travel can be increasingly challenging: giving up driving, decreased physical and/or cognitive skills, and reduced incomes can limit travel options. It is vitally important to connect older people and their caregivers to information about mobility and transportation services available in their communities. Nevertheless, it must be noted that travel options in some communities are severely limited, leaving older adults and their caregivers with few choices when driving is no longer an option.

Life beyond Driving

Older people prefer driving their own vehicles, but when that is not possible, non-drivers identified “riding with a family member or friend” as the most preferred alternative to driving.(6) Furthermore, even when people over age 65 have access to public transportation, only 15% reported using it.(7)

A seminal report, Aging Americans: Stranded without Options, revealed that many older people are reluctant to ask family and friends for all the rides they want and need. They may ask for one ride, but sacrifice asking for a second ride to a seemingly less important destination. Subsequently, older non-drivers take 15% fewer trips to the doctor, 59% fewer shopping trips, and 65% fewer trips for social, family, religious and other life-enhancing purposes.(8)

An AARP survey found when older adults were asked if they missed something they wanted to do, 22% of older drivers and 61% of older people who did not drive said yes.(9) Missing out on community activities is even more significant for older people with poor health. The 2009 National Household Transportation Survey revealed that of people age 85+, 58% with medical conditions (compared to 34% without medical conditions) typically stayed in place all day. 


Source: Mattson, J. (2012). Travel Behavior and Mobility of Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations: Evidence from the National Household Survey. Fargo: Small Urban and Rural Transit Center, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, North Dakota State University.

This is even more pronounced for people living in communities with modest services (e.g., no bus, rail, taxis, etc.), limited hours of operation (limited or no evening or weekend service) or limited routes to desired destinations (e.g., systems that do not serve outer-country areas, do not serve cross-geographic boundaries).   

Trending Topics

The exponential growth of older people who need mobility and transportation services is presenting significant challenges to individuals, families, caregivers, human service organizations, transportation providers, policy makers, government personnel, and elected officials. The degree to which seniors have access to services heavily depends on the capabilities of local providers. Transportation solutions for older people require a holistic and modern approach. Fortunately, there are communities of excellence throughout the country that are addressing these needs. Many of them are embracing private – public partnerships, and there are numerous opportunities for grantmakers to get involved.

Read more on paratransit service, human service transportation, shuttle services, bicycling and walking, vehicle sharing programs and volunteer drivers. Learn more about research, strategic planning, education, new and current mobility services and the next steps for transportation.

Source: National Center on Senior Transportation March 2013


Basic References on Senior Transportation and Mobility

The Beverly Foundation, The 5 A’s of Senior Friendly Transportation, February 2010.

The Hartford, We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers, November 2010.

Rails to Trails Conservancy, Active Transportation for America: The Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking, 2008.

Surface Transportation Policy Project, Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options, April 2004.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Safe Mobility for a Maturing Society: Challenges and Opportunities, November 2003.

Resource Libraries

The Beverly Foundation

National Aging and Disability Transportation Center

Resources Available through Grantmakers In Aging

AARP Public Policy Institute, Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices, December 2011.

American Public Transit Association, Funding the Public Transportation Needs of an Aging Population, March 2010.

Grantmakers in Aging, Aging in Place…With a Little Help From Our Friends, April 2012.

MetLife Foundation, The Maturing of America: Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population, June 2011.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Growing Smarter, Living Healthier: A Guide to Smart Growth and Active Aging, August 2009.

Organizations Focusing on Senior Transportation

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

AARP Driver Safety

American Public Transit Association

Association of Travel Instruction

The Beverly Foundation



National Center on Senior Transportation

Safe Streets for Seniors
See related article: http://www.thirteen.org/metrofocus/2012/07/seniors-take-pedestrian-safety-into-their-own-hands/

Travel Training, Easter Seals Project ACTION

Models of Effective Senior Transportation Programs

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor, MI

Community Council of Greater Dallas, Community Transportation Network, Dallas, Texas

Elder Express, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

ezride, Wood-Ridge, New Jersey

Outreach & Escort, Inc., Santa Clara County, California

Palm Tran, Palm Beach, Florida

GIA Mentors

Grantmakers interested in starting a program area related to senior mobility and transportation, or expanding their funding in this area, are invited to contact Grantmakers in Aging at 703-413-0413 or GIA’s Director of Programs and Membership, Maria Gonzales Jackson, and by phone at 703.413.0413 direct or 301.233.2867 cell, for a referral to an expert on senior transportation (and on staff at a grantmaking foundation) who is willing to serve as a mentor to other grantmakers.

End Notes

See the referenced works here.



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