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Transportation Nightmares: Worst Cities in America for Seniors


When Miss Daisy needed a ride, she just called down to her chauffeur Hoke. But for those of us without her financial outlook, things aren’t looking quite so rosy.

Local governments around the nation rank transportation as their second highest concern for older adults, just below financial issues, according to a survey by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. And it’s no wonder: Nearly 80% of Americans 65 and older currently live in a car-dependent suburb or rural area. By 2015, more than 15.5 million seniors will live in communities with poor or nonexistent public transportation, according to a new study by Transportation for America, a coalition of housing, business and environmental organizations that works for transportation reform.

So what’s the big deal with retiring in the ‘burbs? For one, many seniors don’t drive, which obviously makes it more difficult to get around. A study by the National Institute of Aging found that about 30% of women in their early 70s have stopped driving; that increases to 78% of women 85 or older. Men keep driving longer: Only 12% of men in their early 70s don’t, and just 45% of men 85 or older hang up their car keys.

And while there are good reasons to stop driving, doing so has an effect on physical and emotional health. Americans age 65 and up who no longer drive make 15% fewer trips to the doctor than those who drive, according to the 2004 “Aging in America: Stranded Without Options” study. They also make 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family, which can result in social isolation. “Absent access to affordable travel options, seniors face isolation, a reduced quality of life and possible economic hardship,” the Transportation for America study concludes.

The study, which ranked 241 metro areas on how well they will provide public transportation to seniors aged 65 to 79 in 2015, found some big transportation offenders:

Metropolitan Areas with 3 Million or More People

  1. Atlanta, Ga. (90% of seniors aged 65-79 will have poor transit access in 2015)
  2. Riverside–San Bernardino, Calif. (69%)
  3. Houston, Texas (68%)
  4. Detroit, Mich. (68%)
  5. Dallas, Texas (66%)

Metropolitan Areas with 1-3 Million People

  1. Kansas City, Mo. (88%)
  2. Oklahoma City, Okla. (86%)
  3. Fort Worth–Arlington, Texas (86%)
  4. Nashville, Tenn. (85%)
  5. Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill, N.C. (80%)

Metropolitan Areas with 250,000-1 Million People

  1. Hamilton–Middletown, Ohio (100%)
  2. Montgomery, Ala. (99%)
  3. Greenville–Spartanburg–Anderson, S.C. (99%)
  4. Hickory–Morganton, N.C. (95%)
  5. Brockton, Mass. (91%)

Metropolitan Areas with Less Than 250,000 People

  1. Hagerstown, Md. (100%)
  2. Waterbury, Conn. (90%)
  3. Greenville, N.C. (87%)
  4. Houma, La. (87%)
  5. Merced, Calif. (86%)

The top mark for public transit access for the 65 – 79 set goes to Jersey City, N.J., in which 97% can count on good public transit options in 2015. Other solid options: Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Francisco and Honolulu.  For full results of this study, click here.


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    • G7IGrN cyqebyygfqsm

    • Wodenrful explanation of facts available here.

    • Good comment, Bob.

      We live in a country that for the most part could care less about public transit, and also could care less about working parents, as evidenced by the U.S. lagging behind nearly every other nation in the world (industrialized or not) on access to safe, affordable, quality child care.

      I live in the Cleveland area, which, as someone who does not drive, I feel has particularly bad public transit for a large metro area. It astounds me how many people who live here are anti-public transit, so afraid that public transit will attract “those” kinds of people (anyone different than themslves, usually non-white and non upper-class).

      These same people are one day going to be elderly, unable to drive, and then won’t know what to do when there’s no public transit when they need it.

    • In Sweden, nearly every home is just short walking distance to some sort of public transport. Even in rural areas. The best inclusion of the elderly population I saw was a regional train station where the working family member would leave the countryside for a quick journey into the city. At the station was also an old-folks center (coffee, newspapers, exercise, board games) which combined with a childcare center. The daily interaction of the elderly and the children seemed to benefit everyone, especially the parents off at work. Perhaps the USA should start planning for the aging of the Baby Boomers. They will have so much to contribute in their Golden Years, and we shouldn’t make them drive themselves to stay connected.

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  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.