Institution calls for Government to subsidise vulnerable few but divert majority of funds to improve accessibility for all
Engineering innovation in public transport should be prioritised as it promotes healthy lifestyles and reduces NHS costs
Government needs to review the current universal transport subsidy for older people. According to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, consideration needs to be given to subsidising the vulnerable few, but the majority of funds should be used to improve accessibility to the transport network.
The report, Public Transport for an Ageing Population (click on link at top of email for the full report) recommends that Government and transport providers divert some of the growing budget used for the universal transport subsidy, to provide clearer signage and public announcements, install more escalators and moving pavements, provide more seating at stops and stations and adapting ticket machines to make them more user-friendly.
Dr Helen Meese, Head of Healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:
“The public transport subsidy for older people currently costs the taxpayer £927m every year. But while this system is aimed at encouraging older people to use public transport, much of the UK’s transport network remains inaccessible and difficult for elderly people to use.
“It is vital that that funds are diverted to make the transport network more accessible, which will help older people stay active for longer. About half of older travellers have no private form of transport available and depend on public transport for daily necessities like shopping or visiting the GP.
“By 2021, 20% of the urban population in the UK will be over 65. As the number of older people rises not only will the transport subsidy become increasingly unsustainable, there will be greater demand for the transport network to cater for this growing user group.
“By diverting at least some of the money currently used to fund the universal transport subsidy, the Government could introduce a national integrated transport strategy to encourage greater use of public transport by older users.
“The Government has previously produced a guide for transport planners which outlined best practice in tailoring transport solutions for older and disabled people, yet much of the UK’s transport system remains virtually unchanged since the 1950s or even Victorian times. Where there have been innovations, few are aimed specifically at the ageing population, and some developments such as web-based booking or journey planning are a positive hindrance for many older people.
“It is time for joined-up thinking between the Government and public transport providers to improve existing services and to introduce new technologies and designs that specifically cater for older people, who are set to be an increasingly larger proportion of the UK population.”
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers report recommends that:
The Government reviews 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.
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. 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.
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.