Flexible approach works best for public transport

September 1, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Urban transport options need to steer away from a 'one size fits all approach' in order to better serve our ageing population, according to research by Newcastle University.

Older people are among the most socially excluded members of society and access to transport is a key factor.

Dr Jenny Brake will be presenting her findings at the Urban Transport Conference in Malta today (1 September).

She has found that bookable transport services such as dedicated taxis and designated ‘shopping buses’ operating in the North East are heading in the right direction, but better communication is required to ensure they are reaching those most in need.

‘We often speak about older people being isolated from public transport if they live in rural areas, but it can be just as much of a problem in the city. If you can’t physically get to your local bus stop then it doesn’t matter how good the service is,’ explained Dr Brake.

This latest research shows that the current generation of older people has enjoyed high car ownership, resulting in many people who have no idea how to access public transport, particularly bus services, or are unaware of alternatives such as car sharing clubs.

Dr Brake suggests that as high profile information campaigns about public transport are not a priority in the UK, it can be difficult to overcome this problem. ‘We’ve got two key generations – the baby boomers and today’s teenagers – who see public transport as a second class means of getting around,’ she said. ‘Unless something is done to address these attitudes, bus passenger numbers will continue to fall and we’ll see a further decline in investment in those services.’

Her research suggests that although niche travel schemes designed for older people are not suitable for everyone, it’s the variety of options available that is important. However, the more flexible the service, the less visible it often is, due to the way these services are operated and concerns that demand could outstrip supply.

‘The main objective of a local authority is to get as many people as possible on conventional public transport as this is the cheapest option and keeps commercial operators in business,’ said Dr Brake. ‘However, different people have different needs and it is increasingly recognised that the one-size fits all approach just doesn’t work.

‘We should be asking people what they need. This will vary from county to county, between cities and even within cities. Local authorities and operators can then decide how best to use their resources.’

One of Dr Brake’s concerns about the take-up of these alternative transport options is that often the solutions provided as a result of consultation are simply not advertised, so people are left thinking that nothing has changed because no one has told them about it.

In the North East, schemes such as TaxiCard (launching at the end of September) and Hop to the Shops, which has been running since the beginning of last year, are helping to fill the gap in public transport provision for older people who do not have access to a car and need very good customer care.

Run by Community Transport Newcastle and supported by Nexus, Hop to the Shops offers a door-to-door service to major shopping centres for older people, mainly from residential homes.

Door-to-door services such as TaxiCard and LinkUp, which are booked in advance, are also ideal for older people who are unable to get around on their own.

‘It’s not just about cost as many older people are more than willing to pay towards transport that meets their needs - but they do need more practical assistance,’ said Dr Brake. ‘It’s also a social occasion for people who live on their own.’

Provided by Newcastle University

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