Are we ready for the baby boomers?

Couple on a beach taking a photo

Baby boomers are a generation used to freedom, to having it all and not settling for second best. Photo: iStock

Members of the baby boomer generation are beginning to enter, or plan for, retirement. A generation whose adult lives have been centred around the car and the freedom and status it afforded.

According to Department for Transport statistics, in 2012 some 86% of the baby boomer generation lived in households with a car or van. As they age, many will find they can no longer driver, either through choice or necessity. By the age of 70, the proportion of households with a vehicle drops by 20%. Are the baby boomers ready to make this transition? What will they expect from public transport? How can we meet these expectations?

The needs and expectations of today’s – and tomorrow’s – older people were the subject of an Age UK/International Longevity Centre seminar I attended earlier this week, hearing from a range of academics and researchers on ageing. The seminar is one of a series called ‘Community Matters’ exploring how communities need to adapt to an ageing society.

Suburban dreams, rural retreats

A UK suburban street

Suburban life tends to be centred around the car. Photo: Alan Murray-Rust

Facilitated by the car, many baby boomers moved to the suburbs to raise their families and will have aspirations to stay in those areas, or move to the country, to enjoy their retirement.

As Dr Kit Mitchell pointed out at the seminar, these areas suit a car-centred lifestyle but can leave people isolated once they leave their cars behind, or feel less able to use them. He asked how we can encourage people to consider this and to settle in areas where they will not be wholly car dependent, particularly as they near retirement. This is not an easy task, particularly as many of us do not like to think too far into the future, and if we do, find it hard to imagine how different our lives and needs might be.

Urban living provides shops and services on the doorstep, as well as good public transport links, but does not fit with many people’s current aspirations for retirement. Sophie Handler, of Age Friendly Manchester, suggested that cities may want to look at their image and branding. Do they present themselves as places where older people are included and valued or do images of young, working people dominate? Are the needs of older people considered in the design of public places and the delivery of services?

A hierarchy of transport needs

Wherever people choose to settle, Dr Charles Musselwhite argued that the provision of public transport tends to be focused on utility – getting people as quickly as possible from A to B, during hours that fit around traditional 9 to 5 working patterns.

Older people on a station platform with their Grandchildren

Many baby boomers will have caring responsibilities that require travel outside of ‘normal’ commuting patterns

This model does not necessarily work for older people. They may wish to travel outside these hours or to travel from suburb to suburb to visit friends or fulfill caring responsibilities, rather than travel from suburb to centre to get to work.

Older people are not the only group that this model does not work for. Part-time or shift workers and people with caring responsibilities (often requiring suburb to suburb trips) are also disadvantaged.

Dr Musselwhite divided transport needs into three levels, applying to all age groups:

  • Primary needs: the need to get from A to B.
  • Secondary needs: the need for transport to confer status and a feeling of being ‘normal’.
  • Tertiary needs: the enjoyment and value of the journey in itself (rather than getting from A to B in the shortest time).

When people give up driving, he found that primary needs generally tend to be met but that secondary and tertiary needs are often neglected.

These are needs that are well fulfilled by the car – the car is traditionally seen as a status object and something that enables people to feel that they are like everyone else (although evidence suggests these norms are changing for today’s ‘Generation Y’). Car journeys also afford enjoyment and value in themselves – you can take a drive just for the sake of it and enjoy a scenic, rather than a direct route. Car journeys can uncover unexpected places and sights and enable exploration.

Enjoy the ride

Bench and artwork on a Sustrans walking route

Walking routes, like this one designed by Sustrans, should offer places to linger and discover. Photo: Dean Smith

How can we design public transport, walking and cycling provision so that it meets more of these secondary and tertiary needs that baby boomers are used to being met?

Here are some ideas from the seminar and elsewhere:

The baby boomers are a generation used to freedom, to having it all and not settling for second best – they are likely to be a strong force for positive change in the public services they come to use. Transport providers and planners need to get ready.

Rebecca Fuller

pteg Summary of the Autumn Statement 2013

Autumn Statement 2013 front coverWe thought we would share with you our summary of the key 2013 Autumn Statement announcements of relevance to transport and the PTEs.

Transport and local government budgets

  • For 2014-15, the majority of Whitehall departmental budgets will be cut by 1.1%.
  • Local government is excluded from this reduction, to help local authorities to freeze council tax in 2014-15 and 2015-16. As such CLG Local Government will see no reduction in its departmental resource budget for the next two years.
  • DfT will see a £41m cut in its resource budget for 2014-15 and £36m in 2015-16.
  • The Government is looking at giving local public services the same long-term indicative budgets as departments from the next Spending Review.

Local government

  • The government is inviting proposals for sales and better use of local authority assets as part of growth deals. As an incentive, the government will allow local authorities the flexibility to spend £200 million of receipts from new asset sales on the one-off costs of reforming services.
  • An additional £90 million over 3 years to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings.
  • £5 million during 2014-15 for a large scale electric vehicle-readiness programme for public sector fleets. The programme aims to promote the adoption of ultra low emission vehicles, demonstrating clear leadership by the public sector to encourage future wide-spread acceptance.
  • For more on the implications for local government, see the Local Government Association response to the Autumn Statement and the Guardian Local Leaders Network summary.



  • A new webpage on, providing a single source of information on schemes designed to help manage the cost of transport to individuals and households.


  • A cap on the average increase in regulated rail fares for 2014 in line with RPI. Confirmation that the permitted ‘flex’ above the overall cap on average rail fares will be reduced to 2%. Read Campaign for Better Transport’s reaction.
  • Confirmation of a trial of flexible rail season ticketing in the South East to benefit those who work flexibly or part-time.

Motoring/road freight

  • Freeze fuel duty for the remainder of this Parliament.
  • To incentivise a shift to cleaner, cheaper fuel, commits to maintain the differential between the main rate of fuel duty and the rate for road fuel gases such as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for 10 years. This aims to provide businesses with the certainty they need to invest in alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles.
  • Measures to encourage the development of driverless cars in the UK, including a review reporting by end 2014 and a prize fund of £10 million for a town or city to develop as a test site for consumer testing of driverless cars.
  • A guarantee for £8.8 million to help fund the installation of energy saving lighting equipment across a portfolio of NCP car parks.


  • The Government’s plans for National infrastructure are detailed in the National Infrastructure Plan 2013 (NIP 2013) published on the 4th December.
  • On the same day, the Government also published ‘The UK insurance growth action plan’ including a commitment by UK insurers to work with partners to deliver at least £25 billion of investment in UK infrastructure over the next 5 years, including but not restricted to projects in the published infrastructure pipeline.
  • Alongside NIP 2013 the government published the National Networks National Policy Statement for consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.
  • Launch of an overarching review of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning Regime focusing on shortening the lengthy pre-application phase and further streamlining of the consenting process.
  • Creation of a £1 billion, 6-year programme to fund infrastructure to unlock new large housing sites (Manchester and Leeds were mentioned specifically). £50 million of this will be earmarked for Local Enterprise Partnership supported bids.
  • Maintenance of the Local Growth Fund at £2 billion in 2015-16 (including through making £110 million of Regional Growth Fund available for the Local Growth Fund). The Local Growth Fund will be at least £2 billion every year of the next Parliament.

Land-use planning

  • The government will take steps to address delays at every stage of the planning process, incentivise improved performance and reduce costs for developers, including consulting on measures to improve plan making, including introducing a statutory requirement to put a Local Plan in place.

More information

Rebecca Fuller

Transport accessibility – postcards from academia

Academics want to let policy-makers know what they’ve been researching and what they’ve learnt. Policy-makers want to hear from academics, but don’t want to plough through impenetrable journal articles and research papers. Instead, they’d like the equivalent of the occasional postcard – keeping them up-to-date on what’s going on and summarising the information likely to be of most interest to them.

A recent seminar hosted by UCL (in collaboration with the Department for Transport) attempted to do just that. It gathered together policy-makers and delivered a series of quick presentations (by Professor Peter Jones, Professor Roger Mackett, Dr Catherine Holloway and Dr Kayvan Karimiho) on the latest insights to have emerged from the University’s research into transport accessibility. Here are some of the key points that struck a chord with me.

Conceptualising accessibility

Transport accessibility is multi-faceted – it concerns the physical environment (can I board this bus? Can I use these stairs to reach the train platform?) but also the affordability (can I afford this journey?); acceptability (do I want to walk down this street?); and availability (can I get to my appointment in time?) of transport services (we explore each of these aspects in our report, ‘Transport and Social Inclusion: Have we made the connections in our cities?’).

Steep steps

Accessibility is a continuum. You may be able to climb these stairs 95% of the time – but add tiredness, heavy shopping or an injury and they become inaccessible.

Transport accessibility is an issue for all of us. Dr Catherine Holloway described accessibility as a continuum – all of us will experience inaccessibility at some point. The example of stairs was used – stairs might be accessible to you 95% of the time, but the other 5% they become inaccessible because you’re too tired to climb them, or you’re carrying something heavy. Fares are another example – if they become too expensive, some people will be priced out and that mode of transport will become inaccessible to them.

For Professor Peter Jones, transport accessibility can be broken down into three levels – macro, meso and micro.

Macro is the strategic level of accessibility. It looks at the big picture – the planning of transport networks that enable people to make the connections they need to get to the places they want to go at the times they want to go there.

Meso concerns the accessibility of the neighbourhood or street level – for example, are there busy roads that people are reluctant to cross? Are the streets well lit at night?

Finally, micro looks at the accessibility of things like vehicles and infrastructure – for example, are buses low floor? Are ticket machines user-friendly?

Beat the clock

Focusing in on the macro level, Professor Jones illustrated how timing constraints experienced by individuals have a big impact on their ability to access services using the transport network. He highlighted the packed schedules we keep – we have to fit in the many things we need to do with the hours that services operate. Think, for example, of a busy working parent. They’ll be at work most of the day and will also need to fit in taking children to and from childcare or school. This leaves very small windows to fit in things like hospital appointments, for example. The windows that are available in their schedule may not correspond to when services are open. These windows are smaller still if the person doesn’t have access to a car and is therefore further constrained by when, and where, public transport runs (and how long it takes).

Accessibility is as much about where, when and how services are delivered as it is about providing transport connections to those services. Professor Jones reminded us that one way to overcome people’s timing constraints is to bring the services to the people (rather than the people to the services).

Inside Hillingdon mobile library

A mobile library in Hillingdon – changes to how, where and when services are delivered are as important as transport links in promoting accessibility

Once upon a time we had to travel to collect water from a well, now we have it piped directly into our homes. A more up-to-date example is online grocery shopping where we can select a delivery slot that suits our schedule rather than travelling to the shop. Indeed the internet is allowing us to access a wide range of services remotely, such as attending appointments with hospital specialists remotely via local GP surgeries. Services can also be made mobile – by no means a new idea of course – I have fond memories of the mobile library van parking at the top of my street, not to mention ‘the freezer man’ with his van full of chocolate mousse, fish fingers and other frozen delights.

Gold age pensioners

One group that you might expect to be less time constrained than most is older, retired people – however, as Professor Roger Mackett’s presentation showed, this group are far from idle. Older people cost the nation £136bn but, according to a report by WRVS (called ‘Gold Age Pensioners’) they contribute £176bn. This contribution comes in the form of consumer spending, unpaid childcare and adult social care and a wealth of volunteering. Professor Mackett argued that the easier we can make it for this group to travel, the more contribution they can make.

The free bus pass for older people undoubtedly assists with this – offering freedom and confidence to travel further. It also, he points out, eases the transition from ‘driving’ to ‘not driving’ allowing people to take the bus for trips they no longer want to make by car (for example, they may wish to avoid night driving).

Older people on a station platform with their Grandchildren

The more journeys older people are able to make, the greater their potential contribution to the economy.

He showed data indicating that as people age, they make more shopping and leisure trips – trips that are of great value to the economy. When asked what sort of trips they would like to make more of, older people said visits to friends and family. According to surveys, a lack of direct transport options is what limits older people the most in making these trips. What could we do to facilitate these suburb-to-suburb, rather than suburb-to-centre trips?

Professor Mackett also noted that the majority of older people do not have an impairment and that those they do have are frequently ones we should easily be able to design for and accommodate. Older people may have difficulties with mobility, lifting and dexterity. How might we design ticket machines, for example, to be easy to use for people with limited dexterity? Such designs are likely to be easier for everybody.

Street life

Professor Mackett’s presentation also looked at the accessibility of the street environment. UCL conducted a study in St Albans, mapping the streets and identifying lots of small barriers that could be making a big difference to people’s mobility. This could be anything from a poorly lit street to an A-board obstructing the pavement.

Professor Jones added that people are prepared to walk, on average, an extra 2.2 minutes just to avoid crossing a busy road. People are prepared to walk three times further to avoid poorly lit streets (rising to five times further among women).

St Albans City and District Council took the findings of UCL’s street audit on board and used it to inform their Public Realm Delivery Strategy, which includes measures like installing benches every 100 metres to allow people rest stops along their journey.

St Albans’ approach chimes with the Dr Kayvan Karimiho’s belief that city planners should not just plan for accessibility, but use accessibility to plan, designing street layouts and transport networks that correspond to the way people naturally want to move about.

In his presentation, Karimiho described how, when walking or cycling, people prefer to take the smoothest, rather than the quickest route to their destination. When we look at a map, we choose a route with the most straight smooth lines, with fewer twists and turns down back streets. However, modelling of accessibility tends to be based on the shortest routes from A to B, rather than the way people actually move. Dr Karimiho’s methods and mapping reveal these real-world movements which can then inform street layouts and transport networks that maximise accessibility.

Pedestrian movement on a map

An example of Dr Karimiho’s approach to pedestrian movement analysis, showing the smooth paths people tend to take. (Source:

UCL’s work in this area is assisted by Pamela (Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory). This is UCL’s artificial street environment where researchers can test how people interact with their environment in real world situations. It can be used to model, for example, passenger boarding and alighting from public transport vehicles, shared space schemes and even the effects of mobile phone use on pedestrians.

Next steps

The seminar ended with a determination to organise more such information sharing events, something that, along with the recent launch of the ‘What works’ initiative by the Government, seems part of a wider trend to bridge the gap between policy-making and academic study. The ‘What works’ evidence centres for social policy will produce and disseminate research to local decision-makers, supporting them to invest in the services known to produce the best outcomes. We can therefore look forward to receiving many more postcards from what can sometimes seem a faraway place.

Rebecca Fuller