The availability of transport is a major determinant of mobility and motility of people and goods from one place to another. The mode of transport being used must guarantee safety of all the passengers especially those who have special needs and the disadvantaged such as the elderly. Safety of the transportation means to the senior citizens is normally regarded as a fascinating gesture and act of courteous social policy. The enhancement of proper and adequate structural and functional characteristics in public sector transport such as buses, trains and taxis reduces the number and frequency of accidents that occur on the elderly when using these transportation means. It ensures the comfort of the elderly passengers during travel regardless of whether they are standing, sitting, boarding or alighting. The structural designs of public transport vehicles and trains such as the number and height of steps at the entrance, door structure, comfort of the seats, availability of guard rails on the sides of seats and also the level of the entrance determine the attractiveness of the service to the elderly. The prevalence of such desirable attributes in public transport ensures that the sector is attractive to the elderly in comparison to private transportation means. It is also imperative for the public transport sector to ensure availability of adequate travel information so that the elder members of the society can plan their travel schedules using adequate and actual information. This improves accessibility and convenience of the service.
Accessibility of public transport to the elderly
The accessibility of public transport means the ability of users to reach their predestined destinations in order to explore and utilize opportunities which add value to them. Accessibility of public transport ensures that users experience limited or no difficulties in using the service. There are various factors that affect the proper accessibility of public transport by the elderly members of society.
The mobility of the public transport system has a huge impact on its accessibility by the elderly. Mobility can be measured by the number of trips made by the service means in a given period of time. It can also be measured by the speed of vehicles and trains that offer the service. This determines whether the users of the service arrive at their destinations in time. This is also complemented by the evaluation of the service to determine whether it met the expectations of the users in terms of safety, comfort and satisfaction (Wretstrand, Fristedt, Svensson & Falkmer, 2009).
One of the main factors that influence the accessibility of public transport by the elderly is congestion. There are times when the bus stops are full of people who are in a rush to their destinations. There are also cases where people are normally overcrowded in buses, trains and other transportation means. Such overcrowding normally presents distractions and inconveniences to the elderly since they do not have the ability to compete for seats. Congestion also presents hurdles to the elderly since it increases the risk of them getting injured through falls especially in extreme cases when stampedes occur at bus stops and rail stations. They can also get injured at the entrance to buses since they may not be properly designed for use by the elderly.
One of the main causes of congestion is the lack of adequate infrastructure. There are areas where the road network is poor. Such regions suffer from poorly maintained road and rail networks which make investors in the sector avoid the routes. This is due to the high maintenance costs of their vehicles when they ply such areas. It results to system inefficiency since most of those who live in such areas have limited options when it comes to accessing public transport. The situation gets worse for the elderly and the disadvantaged since they may be forced to stay indoors due to congestion and competition of available transport means since demand is usually high (Waara, 2009).
Another factor that limits accessibility of public transport to the elderly is the distance between their homes and where the service providers are i.e. bus stops, terminals and rail stations. Service providers and the authorities fail to exercise flexibility in their route allocation and determination schedules. This curtails the availability of routes that are in close proximity to areas where most of the elderly live. Lack of flexibility increases the distances that the elderly have to walk before they can access the service. Most public transport vehicles rarely make deviations into estates or homes where the elderly live and in case they do they charge hefty rates for such services which increases costs to the elderly. Such increases in the distance and costs reduce the level of satisfaction that the elderly derive from public transport. It also reduces the appeal of the service to the elderly which results to most of them preferring private options of travel such as cabs. This increases the travelling costs and may reduce their intensity and frequency of travel.
There is therefore need by the authorities to adopt an all inclusive public transport policy that emphasizes the establishment of barrier free transport for all the disadvantaged in society and the elderly in particular.
This is in reference to the diversity of options that are available to the elderly when travelling using public means. The quality and quantity of the means of transport available greatly influences the mobility and motility decisions of the elderly. Availability of various means of transport increases the choice options available to the elderly and leads to greater satisfaction. There is wide variety of transport means that investors and providers of public transport can adopt in order to increase accessibility of their services by the elderly. They must ensure that their facilities accommodate such attributes such as low floors for buses, kneeling buses, large lettered head signs and stop and start announcements. Availability of these accommodative and specific attributes ensures that the elderly feel recognized and this increases their preference of public transport over other means of transport. These enhanced buses and trains should then be available in all routes and at all times so that there are no cases of congestion. Variety also ensures that individuals can make their travel plans with more certainty after evaluation of all possible alternatives. It also guarantees that there is competition amongst the service providers which leads to less exploitation and more satisfaction among the elderly customers.
The availability of quality and consistent user information on vehicle routes, departure and arrival times, applicable charges and comfort factors such as availability of wash rooms immensely impact on the ability of the elderly to access public transport. Investors in the sector should provide adequate user information in form of brochures, maps, websites and through the use of telephone call-in services. Websites containing updated information on transit routes and updated schedules of daily operations can be extremely informative to the elderly. It reduces their waiting times at the bus stops owing to the fact that they are frail and most of them have health and fitness complications. Such websites should also be accessible through phones and should give indications on the approximate waiting times before the arrival of a bus. Such convenience will also be enhanced if all stakeholders take initiatives to raise public awareness of the availability of the system and its cost effectiveness.
- Integration between system modes
The ability of the elderly to change from one transport mode to another with much ease also determines their accessibility to public transport. There should be elaborate system integration between transfer stations such as bus stops, rail stations and terminals. They should be located strategically along highway access routes so that there is minimum time taken between transferring from one means of transport to the other. It is imperative for industry players to provide enough navigation systems at these transfer points such as maps, schedules and even announcements so that elderly members of the public can locate their designated options with much ease. There should also be adequate parking spaces for those who may wish to leave their personal vehicles in preference of public transport.
This refers to the financial implications of public transportation means available to the elderly. Investors in the pubic transport sector must provide a fair pricing mechanism for their services without compromising on quality. This is due to the fact that most of the elderly have no continuous sources of income and majority of them are dependent on pension (Mykura, 2009). The service providers should aim at capitalizing on the economies of scale provided by the increased preference of their services over others due to their cost effectiveness. Investors in the sector should introduce monthly and quarterly offers for elderly travelers so that they can be assured of enough income especially in the long run.
Areas that experience increased urbanization normally have more concentration of services which leads to increased population levels. The local authorities for such areas tend to provide inter linkage of transport means in order to cater for the increased demand for services. This inert linkage of transportation pathways increases accessibility of public transport to the elderly. It also ensures that the services are competitively priced since there is increased competition amongst the service providers for customers. Interconnectivity of roads, railways and terminuses around these areas also reduces the distances that the elderly have to cover before they arrive at bus stops and terminuses. The authorities should therefore ensure that they increase various land use activities that ensure there is greater clustering around neighborhoods where most of the elderly live. Clustering increases permeability ( Howland, Bibi, English, Dyer & Peterson, 2012) through the construction of hierarchical road networks. It brings together various residential, recreational, commercial and institutional facilities which attract various modes of transport due to high demand for services.
- Design and management of road ways
Roads must be designed and built with the needs of all road users in mind. There should be adequate signage to direct pedestrians after they alight from and board public transport vehicles. Such indications like crossings and bus stops should be clearly marked with big letters so that users such as the elderly can easily access their desired options. Wider and straighter roads should be discouraged among neighborhoods where most of the elderly live. This is because such roads are more desirable for those driving and can increase accidents especially during periods of poor weather among elderly users of public transport. The elderly have low and reduced cognitive abilities and may often misjudge the speed of an oncoming vehicle which can increase the risk of accidents. Most of such accidents include the elderly who use public transport since most of them also have poor visibility which may impact negatively on their accuracy and conduct on the roads mainly at crossing points and alighting points (Liu & Ho, 2012).
Other solutions to improve accessibility of public transport by the elderly
The authorities should invest in research in order to establish the main accessibility problems being faced by the elderly in their neighborhoods. Research reveals their mobility needs and preferences. They can then use marketing techniques to seek investors who will tap into the lucrative sector of catering for the travel needs of the elderly.
Improvements on the transport industry must target and prioritize facilities, goods and service areas that are mainly used by the elderly. This encompasses ensuring that there is adequate availability of quality user information in the transport sector. Such information must cater for the elderly users through improved legibility and simplicity in the provided information materials.
There should also be enhanced integration of different modes of public travel such as enlargement of road networks to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Integration should also be extended into provision of user information that is consistent across all travel modes. It should also incorporate the standardization of charges for travelers across all routes.
Usability of public transport by the elderly
There are various usability problems experienced by public transport users. These problems are known to have a greater impact on the disadvantaged members of the society such as the physically challenged and the elderly. Some of these problems include; the increase of waiting times when transferring from one transport mode to another. This is mainly rampant at bus stations and terminals where travelers have to wait for long hours before getting their preferred mode of transport to their destinations. This problem discourages the elder members of the society from travelling using public transport since they get tired due to their low stamina and physical inability to stand or sit for prolonged times.
Another problem that impacts heavily on the elderly users of public transport is insensitivity in the construction of transport modes. The physical characteristics of buses and other public vehicles plus the bus stations and terminals rarely accommodate the needs of the elderly (Broome, Worrall, Fleming & Boldy, 2012). Most of them do not have adequate lighting in order to address safety concerns after darkness. The elderly normally suffer inconveniences by alighting at the wrong places. Others board buses and trains that are headed to the wrong destinations since they cannot clearly establish their location during the dark. There are also personal safety concerns while at the bus stations and terminals or when waiting at a bus stop alongside the road at night. The elderly are often targeted by crooks and muggers since they have little ability to offer resistance.
Some of the drivers and conductors also exhibit lack of courtesy and decorum while handling the elderly members of the society. They pay little regard to the auditory and visual challenges that are widespread across the senior citizenry. Most of them treat these passengers casually and fail to accord them extra attention which is vital in developing mutual understanding. There are vehicles where the elderly are allowed to board even when there is no seating space. They stand for the entire journey and some even faint or develop complications due to effects of strain. There are also transport modes such as buses which are poorly ventilated and poorly sanitized. Such interior conditions increase the risks of falls and contraction of ailments especially communicable ones such as tuberculosis which can easily spread in such poorly ventilated surroundings.
Some drivers of the public transport vehicles fail to demonstrate courtesy and strict adherence to traffic rules. There are those who over speed their vehicles and often apply their brakes instantly. Such behavior affects the elderly passengers and some of them can suffer bruises and physiological problems due to sudden interventions made by the driver without warning.
There should be increased integration of transport mechanisms through the use of information technology. All transit traveler information should be integrated and available in websites of all travel agencies. As mentioned earlier, this information should be accessible trough smart phones. some of this information provides details such as daily time tables an schedules of buses and other public transport modes, interactive route maps, service alerts in case of any updates and trip planners.
It is imperative for such information to be provided on a real time basis since buses sometimes fail to adhere to set timelines due to weather, accidents and traffic jam issues on the roads. Transit agencies must also invest heavily in tracking devices so that the predictions they provide to their customers are reliable and have no major variances from the actual position. Such predictions reduce the waiting times for most of the elderly travelers since they can approximate with certainty when they should depart from their locations and head to stations and terminuses to catch their travel modes.
Majority of the elderly suffer injuries when they are boarding or alighting from buses and also during the time they are inside the buses. The vehicle must have proper infrastructure such as hand rails to support these elderly passengers when they are boarding, alighting and also when seated (Petzal, 1993). The hand rails should be placed at strategic places so that they are easily reachable and accessible to all. There should also be in-vehicle displays that indicate the next stop. There should also be buttons which the passenger can press when seated to request the driver to stop. Such buttons reduce incidents where elderly passengers have to stand so as to beckon the driver that they are about to alight when the bus is in motion. The buttons give the elderly passengers the courage to remain seated until the bus comes to a halt.
It is also immensely beneficial to the elderly passengers if the travel agencies introduce the payment of bus fares through the use of non contact smart cards. Such cards reduce the number of activities that an elderly passenger is involved in when boarding or alighting and reduces any incidences of falls. There should also be increased surveillance on the condition of pavements in and around bus stops, stations and terminuses. Pavements should be low so that there are reduced incidents of elderly passengers tripping and falling.
There is increased use of public transport systems by people from all walks of life. This is due to their cost effectiveness and reliability. It is therefore upon all stakeholders to ensure that they make the system customer friendly for all their customer segments. There must be continuous investment in technology systems in the transport sector so that passengers can have memorable journey experiences. The integration of system information is at the heart of reducing inconveniences to most users especially the elderly. Proper vehicle designs and driver courtesy is also vital in sustaining the desirability of the public transport system among the elderly. Investors must also remain sensitive to the cost of the services so that they can have the ability to compete with other sectors of the economy. Maintaining price competitiveness makes the industry lucrative due to the ever increasing number of users. These users will attach high switching costs to other modes of travel. This eventually makes the public transport system the desire of the majority and will enjoy a higher share of the travelers market in comparison to other forms of travel such as private vehicles.