Transportation Policy: Aging & Visual Impaired Populations

Addressing Visual Impairment in Aging Populations Through Transportation Policy

By Amanda Winstead

As the world’s population gets older, the issue of visual impairment in older adults becomes more critical. According to The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), there will be a 55% increase in vision loss for people by the year 2050.

This alarming shift presents difficulties for policymakers as they strive to ensure the safety and accessibility of transportation for older individuals.

This guide will explore the link between aging people, sight impairment, and transportation policies, highlighting the pressing need for inclusive measures to assist older adults with vision challenges.

Understanding the Impact of Visual Impairment on Aging Populations

Visual impairment is when your ability to see decreases, from mild to severe cases. In older adults, this decline in vision is often due to age-related eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. These conditions can impact how well you can do daily activities, like driving and using public transportation.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), mature drivers with eyesight issues are at a higher risk of being in motor vehicle accidents because their reaction times are slower, and they struggle with depth perception.

Additionally, people with eyesight issues may face difficulties when using public transportation systems that do not cater to their needs.

Transportation Policy: Aging & Visual Impaired Populations
Image Source: Unsplash

Challenges of Transportation Policy for Aging Populations with Visual Impairment

Transportation policies are critical in ensuring safety and accessibility for all members of society. However, these policies often do not consider the needs of aging individuals with vision impairments. Let’s explore some of the struggles faced by this group:

  • Lack of accessible options: Many public transportation systems are not designed with aging adults or people with visual challenges in mind. There may be barriers such as inaccessible ramps, limited audio announcements on buses and trains, and lack of braille signage.
  • Financial burdens: Some may not have the financial resources to afford private transportation services such as taxis or ride-sharing apps. This, coupled with the absence of accessible alternatives, can severely impact their ability to travel.
  • Lack of education and training: Older adults may not be aware of transportation policies that cater to their needs such as reduced fares and door-to-door services. Or they may not have access to education and training on navigating confusing transit systems.

By addressing these challenges, transportation policies can enhance older adults’ quality of life and promote their independence.

Efforts to Address Transportation and Mobility Needs of Older People

Due to the specific problems aging populations face, they may significantly affect road and transportation policies. As a result, efforts have been made to address these concerns. Some examples include:

  • Accessible services: Many cities have implemented accessible transport services, such as ride-sharing services which have also emerged to provide older individuals with more flexible and affordable transportation alternatives.
  • Technology solutions: Advancements in technology, such as GPS navigation systems and smartphone apps, have made it easier to navigate public routes independently.
  • Free transportation: Some areas offer free or discounted public transit services like buses for older adults, making it more financially feasible for them to travel.
  • Infrastructure adaptations: The development of infrastructure adaptations, such as tactile markings and audio signals, has also been crucial in addressing the needs of those with special requirements.
  • Collaboration with healthcare providers: It is also imperative for healthcare professionals to work closely with transit providers to identify the levels of visual impairments that count as a barrier to driving and make recommendations for alternative options.

These efforts are essential in addressing the unique challenges older people face, but more needs to be done on a policy level to ensure inclusive and accessible transportation for all.

The Future of Public Transportation for Aging Populations

As we look toward the future, it is vital to consider the impact of an aging population on public transit and infrastructure. Let’s explore some potential advancements that could improve transportation for older drivers with visual issues in the future:

  • Autonomous vehicles: Advancements in technology may lead to the development of fully autonomous vehicles that can navigate roads with minimal human intervention and may provide safer and more convenient choices.
  • Buses as a service: It is important to start exploring the concept of a bus as a service, where it provides efficient transportation and decreases congestion due to fewer cars on the road.
  • Universal design: This design approach aims to create spaces and products that are available and usable for people of all ages and abilities. It can include features such as low-floor buses and audio announcements.
  • Smart city initiatives: Smart city initiatives, such as connected transit systems and integrated mobility services, can make it easier for individuals to plan and navigate their trips.
  • Green transportation: The development of environmentally friendly and sustainable modes of transportation, such as electric buses, can provide more accessible and affordable options for those with visual impairments.

With technological advancements and an increasing focus on accessibility and equity, we can expect continued improvements in transportation policies and services for aging drivers with sight issues.

Ensuring Accessible Transportation Policies Are Sustainable

We’re at a crossroads, so to speak, when it comes to transportation for the aging population. The figures make it clear that older adults will make up a higher percentage of the population as we approach 2050. According to the World Health Organization, 22% of the population will be over 60 in 2050, compared with 12% in 2015. Simultaneously, we will see an increase in visual impairments.

Pair these statistics with the fact that we need to cut carbon emissions drastically to mitigate the worst effect of climate change, and you see the crux of the issue. We need more accessible transport for more people with visual impairment and at the same time we need it to be

sustainable transport.

Simply put, it’s not enough to modify current transportation policies. New policies must take a three-pronged approach: incentivizing the development of green public transit systems, ensuring these systems are accessible, and heavily discouraging carbon emissions.

Prioritize Subways and Buses

It makes perfect sense to put subways, trams, trains, and buses at the forefront of green transit. According to the World Economic Forum, “Subways and buses are more efficient, equitable, and cleaner than any other mode.” Yet they’re underutilized or their widespread development is underprioritized in many cities. New policies can change this.

It starts with the technology. In the U.S., for example, the plug-in electric vehicle tax credit incentivizes consumers to purchase new EVs, while another credit goes toward the purchase of used EVs. Likewise, there’s a credit for installing charging stations on your property.

Similarly, governments can incentivize cities to build out public transit systems with electric buses and subways. In the U.S., this means earmarking infrastructure improvement funds to go toward sustainable bus and subway systems. Once the money is available to states, it goes to cities. Accessibility for those with visual impairments goes hand in hand with the expansion of bus and subway systems because new public transit vehicles must meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Older adults are encouraged to consider transportation options before moving to a new city. Cities that want to be safe and sustainable havens for an increasing percentage of the population will need to expand their green public transportation options if they want to be considered viable destinations.

As part of this expansion, the World Economic Forum also advocates for “multimodal hubs” — stations where people can grab a bus, train, or another form of green transit, such as a scooter. The more forms of sustainable transportation there are available, with extensive networks of stops and departure points, the better.

Deprioritize Cars

Even if cars and trucks become fully autonomous and electric, they will still not be as efficient as buses and subways. The production of lithium-ion batteries for EVs has its own environmental impact, from mining the lithium to powering factories. With an electric bus, you can transport more people with less environmental damage than you can with an electric car.

However, you can produce all the electric buses and subways you want but that doesn’t mean people are going to use them instead of cars. Sustainable public transit systems must also be affordable, while there must be a higher price for commuting around the city in a car.

One simple solution is to charge widespread tolls for commuting in cars. Cities can then channel toll funds to public transit systems, making it cheaper to take a bus or subway. Moreover, federal and state governments must fund city transit systems through tax dollars. Governments must move to tax industrial/corporate carbon emissions to a greater extent and place prohibitive taxes on oil companies. Carbon tax money can go directly to green, accessible public transit systems.

Electrify Ridesharing

With California moving to mandate EV adoption, it makes sense to do something similar in the ridesharing space. Older adults with visual impairments are likely to rely on services such as Uber and Lyft or taxis if they can’t catch a bus. However, it’s hard to picture a nationwide law that requires rideshare vehicles and taxis to be electric. It’s not out of the question, but in a country like America, the federal government tends to shy away from policies that stifle the free market.

The answer could be an additional tax break for taxi companies and rideshare contractors that choose to go electric. Consumers may already avail themselves of the EV credit. If an individual can receive this credit, and there’s an additional incentive when they use the EV for ridesharing, it stands to reason they’ll be more likely to choose an EV as their business vehicle.

With that, infrastructure authorities must move to create more extensive networks of EV chargers, making it easy for rideshare operators to refuel just about anywhere.

Policymakers Have the Power

When it comes down to it, policymakers have the ability to make overarching decisions that send transportation in the right direction. They can take a clear-eyed view of the increasing prevalence of visual impairments in older adults and adjust policies accordingly.

At the same time, new policies must prioritize green transportation options for everyone. If governments put the twin imperatives of accessibility and sustainability at the forefront, everyone stands to benefit.


About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.