NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Role of Public Transportation in the Lives of Elderly and Disabled Riders

July 5, 2011

A recent report from a group called Transportation for America calculated that, by the year 2015, more than 15 million Americans above the age of 65 will have poor access to public transit.  The report called for more funding so that these people would be able to "age in place" and still have transit access.  The American Public Transportation Association and other transit-oriented groups have written similar reports.  There are two problems with this line of reasoning, says Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

  • First, for the vast majority of Americans outside of the New York metropolitan area, public transit is practically irrelevant as a form of travel. Despite receiving the largest subsidies per passenger mile of any mode of transportation, less than 1 percent of all passenger miles traveled by Americans is by public transit.
  • The second flaw in the reasoning behind the Transportation for America report lies in the assumption that senior citizens will "age in place." The Census Bureau says Americans move an average of nearly a dozen times in their lifetimes.

It is more efficient for those who prefer to use transit to move to places with frequent service than to ask everyone else to provide even more subsidies to extend service for a relatively small number of riders.  A significant alternative to increased transit subsidies is to reform our transit systems so that they can provide better service to riders at a lower cost, says O'Toole.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "The Role of Public Transportation in the Lives of Elderly and Disabled Riders," The Cato Institute, June 29, 2011.

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