Sandra Gangle, Transit Study Chair

Baby Boomers + born between 1946 and 1964 + are approaching the age of retirement. And there are 77 million of them + the largest generation in American history! Boomers have grown up depending on the automobile. Beginning in their teens or early twenties, most of them commuted daily between their suburban residences and their workplaces, schools, shopping centers, healthcare services and leisure activity centers. Their automobiles have been an essential component of their lives, the symbol of their independence.

According to a recent study, “Aging In Place,” the mobility of Boomers is going to change as they age. Inevitably, a large share of Boomers will find that their ability to navigate by driving their own vehicles will diminish or even disappear. Millions of older adults will need affordable transit alternatives in order to remain independent as long as possible. Absent such options, 79 percent of seniors are estimated to face isolation and loneliness because they live in car-dependent suburbs and rural communities. At the same time, many seniors will suffer a reduced quality of life due to health problems and possible economic hardship due to reduced income and higher medical expenses.

The “Aging in Place” study includes an analysis that was done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) on the adequacy of public transportation service in 241 metropolitan areas. The CNT considered the total number of public transit lines and stops that were available in each city, as well as the number of seniors over age 65 who would need to be served during the year 2015.

Two Oregon metropolitan areas were included in the CNT study + Salem/Keizer and Eugene/Springfield. Because of their similar population totals, the Oregon locales were treated as comparables in the study. The Salem area was found to be considerably behind Eugene in planning for the needs of seniors, however. The study found that 53 percent of Salem’s seniors, or 26,440 persons, will have “poor transit access” in 2015, while only 39 percent of Eugene’s seniors, or 19,140 persons, will have similar difficulty. In other words, Eugene has made better progress in improving access and is expected to have safer and more efficient transit options in place for its aging population than Oregon’s capitol city will have just four years from now.

The study found further that federal aid accounts for only one-fifth of the dollars that are spent for public transit. That share, however, “does not begin to meet growing needs, particularly in these fiscally-constrained times for local and state governments.” Therefore, at a time when the state and local governments are experiencing great financial strain, they are going to bear the additional burden of serving the growing senior-citizen population. Without increased investment from those communities, transit districts like Salem-Keizer’s “will find themselves locked into inadequate systems that leave millions of seniors without options” for safe, adequate travel.

The study recommended that Congress increase its funding for public transportation, including buses, trains, van-pools and specialized transit services. The additional funding should assist local transit districts to engage in innovative practices, such as expanding and coordinating programs and services and using technology to make transit systems more efficient and user-friendly. Also, all communities should endorse a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for all persons, including the elderly and disabled.


“Aging in Place: Stuck Without Options: Fixing the Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation” (Transportation For America, 2011)

Coughlin, Joseph, “Longevity, Lifestyle and Anticipating the New Demands of Aging on the Transportation System”, Public Works Management & Policy, Volume 13, Number 4, 301-311(2009).

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