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Are We There Yet? The Next Step in Revolutionizing Canadian Transport for Older Adults

October 1, 2021

Tammy Bui (she/her) is a 2021 Social Connectedness Fellow who worked with HelpAge Canada. Tammy is an MSc. Public Health graduate at McGill. She grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. Tammy completed her bachelors degree at the University of Ottawa in Biomedical Sciences which ignited her passion for work in aging and health inequalities. Her current Master’s research focuses on reducing the inequalities faced by older adults at a population level and she hopes to make a difference through policy action and community-level change. Tammy is interested in the intersection between aging, health services, and health policy. She aspires to be at the forefront of gerontological health research by pursuing a PhD in this field.

The proportion of older adults in Canada is accelerating rapidly, with older adults projected to make up a quarter of the Canadian populace by 2036. Our rapid change in Canadian demography poses unique challenges to senior’s mobility. Older adults are on the move, taking part in many kinds of transportation activities, including day-to-day grocery trips, medical appointments, rides, and long road trips such as vacations and family visits. Unfortunately, older adults are often left without a ride due to limited mobility. 

Poor transit proliferates social isolation

Transportation is a fundamental means of access to daily activities. Without appropriate transit, older adults are stuck in place, restricted to the confinement of their own home – often leaving them lonely and isolated. This threat to health is pervasive and dangerous. Loneliness increases stress, promotes unhealthy habits during isolation, and can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease – one of the most dangerous neurodegenerative diseases. Despite Canada being a high-income country with progressive governance and leadership, senior’s transportation needs are not currently being met by the Canadian transportation system. Hence, robust transportation is an essential component of preventing and addressing social isolation and loneliness for older adults.

Current strategies to improve senior’s mobility such as reduced bus fares, para-transport, and siloed community rideshare programs aren’t sustainable. Supplying rides for a growing demand of older Canadians requires innovation. We need to identify how Canada can move forward towards an inclusive transportation system. 

A window of opportunity: policy, partnerships, and technology 

We need to re-think and revolutionize older adults’ transportation. Innovative transportation solutions are  how we can improve senior’s mobility and build connectedness for older adults. Innovation can be tackled through 3 lenses:

  1. Strengthening public-private partnerships
  2. Advocating for age-friendly transportation policy
  3. Revolutionizing technology 

A case for strong partnerships – PlusBus, Netherlands 

PlusBus Steenbergen in front of a convenience store ready to pick up older adults (Image via PlusBus Facebook)

PlusBus is a community-led service that gives rides to older adults. PlusBus partners with local communities to operate the busses. To ensure long-term success and sustainability, PlusBus has secured partnerships including government, non-profit, and local private sector businesses. PlusBus provides the transportation tools, booking system, and vehicles and their services are completely run by community members. The bus runs in 90 municipalities in the Netherlands and is run by volunteer drivers. This model has empowered community members to take charge of their own transportation. 

Strong government buy-in Transport for New South Wales, Australia 

Transport for News South Wales is an agency, created in 2011 by the New South Wales government for sole responsibility of transportation over the state. Transport for News South Wales oversees many transportation initiatives supporting older adults. For example, Transport for NSW organizes the Community Transport Programme providing door-to-door transport for people whose access to mainstream transport services is limited by physical, social, or geographical factors. 

Technology – Myroute Japan 

MYROUTE – Myroute services multiple modes of transportation

Myroute is an application providing a multi-modal service for riders. Myroute lets older adults plan and ride by inputting a destination and then selecting from different routes and means of travel, including walking, buses, trains and taxis. Myroute has payment services as well as destination information such as restaurants and cafes.

Looking forward

An inclusive transportation system would allow for the seamless movement of all Canadians; ultimately, investing in increased transit access for older adults stands to benefit people of all ages. 

Today, as we celebrate and reflect on the International Day of Older Persons, we can evaluate what inclusive communities for all ages look like. Specifically, we can take inspiration from examples such as those listed above, and work to create communities where everybody, no matter their age or ability, has access to reliable transportation. Ultimately, everybody deserves the opportunity to explore and engage with their respective community. 


Added by SCSC Internal Team on September 8, 2023:

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has developed a guide that includes a wide variety of practical tips and local resource recommendations from geriatric health experts and advocates. Read it here.