Planners 'must take more notice of older people'

Current approached to designing transport systems are failing to take account of the needs of the elderly, according to researchers who accompanied old people on trips around their local area to see what sort of problems they encounter.

The study, which involved more than 80 people, was carried out by the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University as part of SPARC, the Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity initiative.

The 10 month project is claimed to be one of the first of its kind where the input is led by older people themselves. A key role in the research was played by 10 focus groups, designed to capture transport users’ experiences and views at first-hand. Some focus group members also participated in ‘walk-rounds’ of local districts accompanied by researchers that revealed the difficulties they encounter.

According to the researchers, their results show that design guidance currently available to planners of transport infrastructure and services does not adequately take older people’s requirements into account. Planning software used by local authorities is also inadequate, they said, and doesn’t accurately reflect the length of time it actually takes older people to complete journeys.

Discussing their findings at this week’s BA Festival of Science in Liverpool, the researchers said there are several simple, low-cost measures that could revolutionise older people’s ability to use transport systems. These include road crossings that allow pedestrians a longer time to cross, bus interiors with secure handholds, and bus stops that let passengers see when their bus is coming without repeatedly having to get up and down to check.

“Older people want to use transport systems to help them maintain their independence”, said Dr Greg Marsden, who led the research. “But it may only take one bad or frightening experience on a bus or crossing a road to put them off. Major changes are needed in the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services, with older people consulted and their needs taken more fully into account.”

Dr Marsden and his team aim to continue exploring older people’s transport-related experiences and to investigate how they manage the transition between car dependency and greater reliance on public transport as they grow older. 

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