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Project Type
UTRC Faculty Development Mini-grants
Project Dates
01/01/2007 - 12/31/2007
Principal Investigators
Project Status
Project Description

A growing population of older adults (age 60 and above) in coming years will present challenges for urban planners and transportation managers to provide travel options that support autonomy. To investigate barriers that older adults experience in using public transit, this research explores associations between older adults who do and do not ride fixed-route public transit and their neighborhood walking access to buses and trains. The research tests whether or not the distance between a trip origin or destination and a transit stop or station is a significant factor in predicting frequency of transit ridership. Data from a survey of older adults in California and New York is used to regress older adults’ frequency of riding public transit against explanatory variables, including demographic and socioeconomic variables, access and mobility measures, and neighborhood characteristics. Findings suggest that self-reported walking distance to transit has a statistically significant influence—in San José, California but not in Buffalo, New York - in predicting transit ridership frequency and whether or not a survey respondent is a driver. Models predict that in San José, each additional 5 minutes in perceived walking distance to transit decreases transit ridership frequency by 4 percent for non-drivers and by 15 percent for drivers. Models of driving behavior are more robust than models of transit ridership frequency.

Project Overview

A critical component of transit travel is the walking trip to a bus stop or transit station. In recent years, there has been greater attention paid to multi-modal accessibility at the neighborhood level, and many studies about access to public transit define pedestrian “cachement areas” surrounding transit stations and estimate the potential for transit ridership from households within the cachement area and calculate features of the built environment that encourage or inhibit walking access to transit.

A majority of research about access to public transit is conducted for working-age adults and able-bodied commuters. Less is known, however, about the walking trip to access transit for older adults over age 65, including older adults’ proclivities for walking, acceptable walking distances, and characteristics of the walk trip that influence the likelihood of riding public transit.

This research fills a gap in the literature by examining in considerable detail local walk trip to access public transit for a particular market segment— older adults—that is known to have lower trip rates than other segments of the population and is also vulnerable to isolation and lower levels of physical activity.

Study Site

The Buffalo region is a natural laboratory for research on the processes and outcomes of population aging, both for communities and individuals. Erie County has a population that is older than the national average. Older adults in this region are economically and socially diverse and reside in urban, suburban, and rural places. Recent data shows that Buffalo ranks fifth among U.S. metropolitan areas with decreases in its suburbs of younger adults and increases in older adults. In addition, the Buffalo region provides an extraordinary setting for the study of older adults in a four-season climate.

Recent demographic analysis suggests that the older adults in Buffalo and other Upstate New York cities are at a comparative disadvantage in terms of access and mobility owing to lower automobile ownership rates, higher poverty rates, and higher disability rates (Hess 2005). Although the study site is focused on one county, a diversity of neighborhood physical environments across that county offers rich opportunities for studying the correlates of the physical environment with walking.

Method of Inquiry

This project, motivated by unique research questions about transit access for older adults, will analyze existing survey data in new ways. The research will draw upon data from a 2005 survey of older adults in Buffalo and Erie County, New York (Hess and Peck 2007). A unique aspect of the survey is that respondents reported the distance from their home to the nearest bus stop, and this is referred to as the “perceived” proximity to transit. Survey respondents home addresses can be used to measure the objective distance to transit. In addition, the survey data will undergo multivariate analysis and will be combined with complementary data sets and geographic information systems (GIS) to determine the influence on ridership of physical environmental correlates adjacent to transit stop—parks, businesses, neighborhood deterioration (boarded up buildings, vacant lots) and neighborhood crime. The results will report the influence of objective and perceived access to transit on older adults’ proclivities for and frequency of riding transit, paying special attention to neighborhood features that affect walkability, including the characteristics of streets and sidewalks.

Significance of Research

As the “baby boom” generation reaches retirement, the largest age cohort in the U.S. will soon be older adults over age 65, and of these older adults, the “oldest old” over age 85 is the fastest growing population. Many of the “oldest old” —especially women—live alone. Older women are three times more likely to live alone compared to men. Additionally, they may be frail and may survive on limited incomes. Consequently, safe mobility for older women living alone is a major concern for urban planners and transportation policymakers, which was confirmed in a recent survey conducted by theAmerican Association of Retired Person which found that access is one of older adults’ greatest concerns about riding public transit (Stowell-Ritter et al. 2002). Improvements to neighborhood access and walkability to public transit will not only benefit older adults but all users and potential users of public transit, including children and those with mobility limitations.