Policy statement

Public transport for an ageing population

Demographic changes will greatly increase demand for public transport but inclusive transport design must be improved to meet the needs of older people.

Demographic changes will greatly increase demand for public transport but inclusive transport design must be improved to meet the needs of older people.

UK society is ageing. The country has more than 20 million over-50s, who are responsible for 40% of UK annual consumer spending and hold 80% of the nation’s wealth. The number of people living in the UK of pensionable age will rise to 15.5m in 2038, according to charity AgeUK.

Many older people are fully active and there are social and health benefits to older people using public transport, apart from the ability to simply get from A to B. Data collected in London, for example, suggests that public transport users take more exercise than private car drivers and that they have more opportunities to overcome social isolation.

While there are some excellent examples of inclusive transport design, it is often patchy however, with different service providers implementing different technologies across the UK.

Engineers could play a vital role in using innovation and design to help all travellers on their journeys by addressing infrastructure, carriage and vehicle design and information systems. In doing so, they must include older people’s views.

With longer life expectancy and often greater wealth among the older population, it is crucial that transport planners, the engineer community and operators start to think differently about ageing and begin adjusting now to meet the transport needs of older people. 

Key recommendations

1. Government must review the universal transport subsidy for older people. Given the economic climate and rising number of older people, the current system will become unsustainable. Consideration must be given to subsidising the vulnerable few, whilst diverting the majority of funds to improve accessibility of the transport network for all.

2. Transport and infrastructure providers, working with local authorities and central government need to ensure their engineers implement an integrated transport strategy over the next 20 years to cater for the growing older population by, for example, providing clearer signage, installing more escalators, providing more seating at stops and stations and adapting ticket machines to make them more user friendly.

3. Government and local authorities must include older people’s views and experiences when developing new public transport infrastructure. This could be achieved by including organisations such as AgeUK and Voice North in public discussion forums and ensuring that older people engage in all public consultation processes.

4. The Institution recommends that the Department for Transport develop a national integrated transport strategy for the next 20 years to be implemented by 2016, which includes addressing the needs of the ageing population, when developing plans for long-term investment in large-scale infrastructure projects.

Related links

Read the Institution News article related to this policy statement

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