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

Bus Stop to Better Health

Waiting for the busIn this special guest post, Nick Bosanquet, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College sets out ways in which transport support could be used to connect people to work and therefore to better health.

The great health divide

There is a huge hidden problem of economic loss and wasted potential in the UK. At present 18 per cent of the adult working age population are out of the workforce permanently and another 7 per cent are unemployed. This is the great health divide.

There is a spiral of decline by which inactivity leads to worsening of health, poor diet and ever lower activity. Long term medical conditions affect those out of the workforce so that within a few years, levels of disability are 50 per cent in the inactive group. There is a great deal of misery and wasted human potential as well as higher mortality.

Economic inactivity creates a major burden in the form of increased welfare payments and loss of output. If the inactivity rate were the same across the UK as in the South East—around 9 per cent—the net gain to the public sector would be £100bn in reduced support payments and increased tax revenues.

If policy makers are serious about health inequality and poverty they have got to make a priority of providing assistance back into the workforce. Given that around half of households in the lowest income quintile have no access to a car or van, support to connect to employment opportunities using public transport, cycling and walking should form a key component of this assistance.

What might such a programme look like?

A new back-to-work rehabilitation programme

Working in partnership with other sectors  (including transport) the Department of Health, NHS England and the Department for Work and Pensions could develop special investment programmes for jobseekers including counselling and a special 12 week back-to-work rehabilitation programme.

The programme would need to reflect the complex range of barriers to employment faced by each individual – from childcare to housing issues. From a transport perspective, the programme could, for example, include personalised journey planning support to broaden travel horizons and help people understand the range of opportunities they can reach using public transport, walking and cycling. It could also include three month back-to-work travel passes to help meet the costs of travelling to interviews and travel costs during the first weeks of a new job.

The precise format of support should be informed by research into how people outside of the workforce view their main transport problems as well as by a consultation on the most cost effective means of providing transport support to jobseekers.

WorkWise signSuch a consultation could draw on the expertise of PTEs who have a long and successful track record of developing local initiatives that help unemployed people into work by removing transport barriers (WorkWise schemes, for example).

There is an opportunity for supporting these existing local schemes as well as further creative approaches which show how localism can produce results on an intractable problem that Whitehall policies have struggled with over the last 20 years. PTEs understand their local communities and the transport barriers they may face and are well placed to tailor interventions accordingly.

Greater integration between transport and health

These new back-to-work programmes could form part of a broader drive towards greater integration between the health and transport sectors.

GPs now have more power though the Clinical Commissioning Groups, whilst Directors of Public Health have a ring-fenced budget for spending on public health interventions. These powers could be used to commission provision that supports people back into employment or encourages them to become more active through everyday activities like walking and cycling.

There needs to be an organized drive across government on improving travel to work to assist more people back into the workforce. The next few years give an excellent opportunity to help those outside the workforce to share in the recovery.

Professor Nick Bosanquet

Wales – time for a leap forward on transport?

Welsh flags

Wales is positioning itself as a small country that can do great green things (Picture: National Assembly for Wales on Flickr).

Scotland got a comprehensive deal on transport powers as part of devolution and has forged ahead with some confidence – particularly on rail. The state of play on devolution of transport powers in Wales is less clear cut and remains complex and unresolved.

Small countries can do great things on transport (the Netherlands and Switzerland are among the best in the world on all sorts of measures of public transport integration – and of course the Dutch are world-beaters on cycling). Wales is positioning itself as a small country that can do great green things that make people want to live, work and invest there. The flagship transport measure being an Active Travel Bill which puts more of an imperative on local transport authorities in Wales to prioritise cycling and walking.

On bus and rail the direction of travel is less clear cut, with powers uneasily divided between Wales and the absentee landlord in Whitehall.

There’s also an impasse on local transport governance. Wales is served by four local transport partnerships which bring together existing local authorities in a voluntary way. There’s a sense from many however that this isn’t enough to bring efficient and integrated arrangements for public transport services and ticketing – especially in the area which covers Newport / Cardiff / Bridgend and the Valleys. This was certainly the impression that I got at two events in Cardiff that I took part in earlier this year. The first was giving evidence at a Welsh Assembly Enterprise and Business Committee and the second was an Institute of Welsh Affairs conference.

Part of the context for this fresh impetus for the debate was that the Valleys are changing. The physical scars on the landscape left by primary industries are healing – black landscape reclamation is turning into green tourism. And although the social and economic scars are not so easy to heal there is change there too – with population on the increase after years of decline, and steady diversification of the Valleys’ economies. Meanwhile Cardiff now has the look and feel of a capital of a small country. Its growing big city economy is also the bedrock of the wider Welsh economy and more people are commuting into the city as a result.

The Valleys are linked to Cardiff by a rail network that makes the best of its basic stations and bottom of the heap rolling stock, but forthcoming proposed electrification of the South Wales main line, and the Valley lines, offers the opportunity to do something special with the network. Especially if this is linked to the creation of a transport authority for the area that could make sure that faster electric services are linked in to a fully integrated bus network. By the nature of their geography the Valleys are ideal for a hub and spoke system with rail providing the rapid links to Cardiff, and bus services radiating from key stations – all bound together by smart and integrated ticketing. Just treating the electrification of the Valleys as a rail engineering project with knock on benefits for rail passengers would be a major missed opportunity.

As ever though governance change is hard. Politicians and officers fear that they will lose out from the creation of a new body – either in terms of influence or responsibilities. Plus there’s an added difficulty with the Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys area. Nobody knows what to call it! It’s not exactly a city region. Extending the Cardiff brand to cover it would also be neither diplomatic or quite accurate. Everyone knows what this area it is – but there isn’t a word for it! What it could be though is a great place to live and work as the century progresses. The green valleys, Cardiff’s buzz – a big sub-region in a small country doing great things. Sometimes transport’s role can be overstated in transforming regions – but not here. Core urban bus services, fast electric services to the Valleys’ hub stations for bus feeder networks. One brand, one smart ticket, one network. Binding local economies more closely together into a region that could hold its own. It’s there for the taking if the politicians are ready to take a leap forward on getting the powers they need from Whitehall and in taking some big, resolute decisions on bus regulation and transport governance.

The papers from the excellent Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) conference on ‘Making a Welsh Metro happen’ can be found here.  The North of England could really do with something similar to the IWA. The IWA gets the right blend of academia, politics and interest groups together into events and publications that stimulate a grown up, informed debate about where Wales goes next.

The report from the Welsh Assembly Enterprise and Business Committee on integrated public transport in Wales makes some sound recommendations on ways forward and can be downloaded here.

Jonathan Bray