Small changes to transport systems could mean big benefits for older people
11 September 2008
A new study has pinpointed how simple, low-cost measures could revolutionise older people’s ability to use transport systems effectively, safely and with confidence.
Researchers at the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University believe the measures they have identified could eliminate many of the day-to-day problems that currently deter older people from using public transport and the pavements and roads in their locality.
Examples of potential measures include:
- Provision of road crossings at a greater number of wide or busy junctions
- Provision of road crossings that allow pedestrians a longer time to cross
- Designing bus interiors to ensure secure handholds are provided in the wheelchair and buggy storage area, through which passengers boarding the bus have to pass
- Designing bus stops to ensure people sitting down inside them can easily see when their bus is coming, without repeatedly having to get up and down to check
- Introducing a system of accredited standards for taxi companies, to reassure older people that they will only be taken to their destination via the most direct route
Implementing such measures would make a major contribution to eliminating feelings of vulnerability, enhancing independence and boosting the quality of life experienced by the UK’s ageing population.
The study was the first on transport related to be led by input from older people themselves rather than dictated by researchers. Undertaken as part of the SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) initiative, its findings will be discussed at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Liverpool on Thursday 11th September. SPARC is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Complementing input from public health and transport engineering specialists, a key role in the research was played by 10 focus groups, designed to capture the first-hand experiences and views of a total of 81 older people from the Leeds area.
Some focus group members also participated in unique, groundbreaking ‘walk-rounds’ of local districts, with researchers accompanying older people to see real-world transport-related difficulties through their eyes.
The findings from the focus groups and walk-rounds highlighted the fact that design guidance currently available to planners of transport infrastructure and services does not adequately take older people’s requirements into account. The limitations of the transport planning software generally used by local authorities when developing transport systems also became clear. In particular, the research team concluded that the software does not reflect the length of time it actually takes older people to complete journeys by foot and by public transport.
The team also came to the view that training and awareness programmes for bus drivers etc focusing on the specific needs of older people (e.g. ensuring that buses do not pull off before everyone is safely seated) could have a beneficial impact.
"Older people want to use transport systems to help them maintain their independence", says 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.
Notes to editors
The 10-month study ‘Older People and Transport: Integrating Transport Planning Tools and User Needs’ received financial support from SPARC of £24,589. Additional support was received from the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University.
The study also highlighted that:
- Travel itself and the associated feeling of independence are often more important than the destination for older people. For instance, shopping is more than just buying food or clothes; it is an experience, a reason to go out and interact with others
- Problems faced by older people when walking round local neighbourhoods include obstacles caused by badly parked cars, untrimmed hedges and hedge trimmings left on the pavement
The Research Councils are taking this area of research forward through the cross-Council programme on Life Long Health and Wellbeing, which includes the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in addition to BBSRC and EPSRC.
The BA Festival of Science will take place in Liverpool from 6-11 September bringing over 350 of the UK’s top scientists and engineers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. In addition to talks and debates at the University of Liverpool, there will be a host of events happening throughout the city as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations.
Dr Greg Marsden and Dr Mima Cattan will be giving a presentation on Thursday 11th September at The Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool (see http://www.foresightcentre.co.uk). This will form part of the ‘Older People Going Places’ event organised by SPARC which will run from 1.30pm on this date.
An image is available from the EPSRC Press office, see contact below.
Image caption: Seeing transport through different eyes: a researcher accompanies an older person on a walk-round in the Leeds area.
SPARC is a unique initiative supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to encourage the greater involvement of researchers in the many issues faced by an ageing population and encountered by older people in their daily lives. SPARC is directed, managed and informed by the broader community of researchers, practitioners, policy makers and older people for the ultimate benefit of older people, their carers and those who provide services to older people.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
About the BA Festival of Science
The BA Festival of Science 2008 is being organised by the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) in partnership with the University of Liverpool. It is supported by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, the Liverpool Culture Company and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
About the BA
The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering. Established in 1831, the BA organises major initiatives across the UK, including National Science and Engineering Week, the annual BA Festival of Science, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges. The BA also organises specific activities for the science communication community in the UK through its Science in Society programme.
Dr Mima Cattan, Centre for Health Promotion Research, Leeds Metropolitan University
tel: 07711 952834
Dr Greg Marsden, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds
tel: 0113 343 5358
Judy Moreton, EPSRC Press Office
tel: 01793 413084
Matt Goode, Head of External Relations
tel: 01793 413299
Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer
tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382