Many over-65s in England 'rarely use public transport'

image captionMany older people do not uses buses, even though they are able to ride them for free

The public transport system is failing the oldest and most vulnerable in society in England, a report says.

The Future of Transport in an Ageing Society was compiled by think tank The International Longevity Centre - UK (ILC-UK) and charity Age UK.

It says millions of older people are faced with travel problems.

More than half of over-65s either never use public transport or use it less than once a month, despite being eligible for free bus travel, it says.

Age UK said the transport system was not currently meeting the needs of the growing ageing population.

The report also claims it is the oldest, those in poor health and those living in rural areas who are let down the most by public transport.

It uses data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which collected information from 10.601 participants, and evidence from transport experts.

The report's findings include:

  • One third of over-65s in England never use public transport.
  • Approximately 35,000 people aged 65-84 in England have difficulty walking even a short distance, but are restricted to using public transport, making any journey difficult. More than half do not use public transport.
  • 1.45 million over-65s find it "quite difficult" or "very difficult" to travel to a hospital, while 630,000 over-65s find it "difficult" or "very difficult" to travel to their GP.
  • 20% of those aged 70-74 living in rural areas use public transport weekly, compared with 38% of those who live in an urban setting.

The report calls for older people to be supported in driving for longer, with viable alternative transport options to be made available for those who are unable to drive.

And it says research by Age UK shows that health problems are more likely than age alone to lead to people giving up driving.

It claims only 1% of people aged 60 or older, who were surveyed by the charity, would give up driving because of their age, while 43% would stop driving due to health concerns.

The report suggests that several improvements could be made to public transport to support older people, including:

  • Transport assistance cards, which record details of an individual's needs, issued by transport operators and local authorities.
  • Expansion of real time audio and visual information on buses.
  • Expansion of live departure boards at bus stops.
  • Alternative ways of accessing journey planners, such as over the phone, for those who do not access the internet.

It called for public transport providers to design their services with older people in mind.

'Game changers'

Helen Creighton of ILC-UK said travel was essential for independent living, and had benefits for people's physical health and mental wellbeing in later life.

The transport system needed to be adapted to meet the demands of an ageing society, she said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the report should be "a wake-up call" and that it was worrying how many older people were struggling to reach a hospital or their local GP.

She added: "It is crucial that older people are able to get out and about, especially as the evidence shows this helps them retain their health and independence for longer.

"The bus pass is an absolute lifeline for many who would otherwise be stranded at home and is utterly essential, but the truth is it's not enough on its own to enable older people to stay mobile.

"For example, better transport planning and more imaginative use of volunteers could make a big difference today, and in the medium term driverless cars and other technological innovations could be real game changers."

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