Getting Ohio to Work: Reaching Opportunity Through Public Transportation Part IV

Ohio’s Rapidly Aging Population Magnifies Need for Transit as Means of Accessing Healthcare
By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

This is the fourth installment of GOPC’s new series: Getting Ohio to Work: Transporting the People.
Click to read the first, second, and third blogs.

Many Ohioans wish to stay in their homes and neighborhoods where they have lived most of their lives. Known as aging in place, these residents deserve the chance to continue to live in the places they have called home for decades. Demographic research shows that very few people choose to move after they reach retirement age (i). Aging in place has proven health and monetary benefits; however, aging in place can become onerous for seniors who do not have reliable transportation options that they can count on daily. As people grow older, their ability to drive a car diminishes, and the need for frequent, efficient, and reliable public transportation increases.

Research has shown that programs that support aging in place yield cost savings for individuals and their families, the government, and the health system. 18-21% of persons over the age of 65 (and under the age of 84) are likely to own their home, and therefore, have no mortgage payment (ii). Saving on housing payments that would otherwise go to a nursing facility or toward rent/mortgage alleviates the burden for seniors to pay for other necessities, such as medical expenses and groceries. As well, the ability for seniors to maintain social ties to familiar surroundings as they age can increase their health and happiness. Studies have found that “compared with persons who had five or six social ties, those who had no social ties were at increased risk for incident cognitive decline after adjusting for a variety of socio-economic and physical factors" (iii).  Overall, by devoting resources to ensure Ohioans can age in place can increase health benefits and reduce costs to both the individual and their community.

Consideration for policies surrounding Ohio’s aging population requires an understanding for the state’s future. Studies have shown that Ohio’s elderly population is growing substantially in both number and as a share of the overall population every year, which means that transit agencies will require more resources to handle the growing demand for service. By 2030, the share of people in Ohio over the age of 60 is projected to represent 29% of the state’s total population (iv). This increase in the elderly population of over 700,000 people represents a 14% increase from 2015. Should projections pan out as expected by 2030, one in four Ohioans will be seniors (65 or older) while one in five Americans will be seniors. Moreover, Ohio will also need to adapt to the growing elderly disabled population by increasing transit services to allow folks to get to doctor appointments. By 2035, the number of people over the age of 60 and with a severe disability is expected to rise by 60%, or roughly 100,000 people.

Seniors need solid transportation for a number of reasons, but most notably so they can get to and from crucial medical appointments. Studies show that Americans over the age of 65 who discontinue driving make 15% fewer doctor trips than those who still drive and are of the same age (v). This underscores the need to make public transportation a viable option so seniors have access to medical care. This need is even more pertinent in rural areas, where populations are generally older, and where homes and doctor offices are more geographically dispersed. As we look for ways to allow seniors to age in their homes, having sustainable transportation available ensures access to their medical appointments.

Ohio’s transit agencies will require increased financial support if they are to deliver frequent, reliable service as demand increases in light of demographic change. Yet, many agencies have recently been forced to cut routes and reduce service due to budget constraints, while there are 27 counties in Ohio that lack a transit agency altogether. In many areas in Ohio, seniors rely on the transportation through health and human services programs such as Medicaid to receive medical care, which are often far more costly and less efficient than traditional transit services, and generally can only be used for medical-related trips. Devoting resources to Ohio’s transit network will ensure that more seniors have better freedom of movement while remaining in the homes they live in.

i Transportation for America. “Aging in Place, Stuck without Options.”
ii US Department of Housing and Urban Development “Measuring the Costs and Savings of Aging in Place
iii AARP “Aging in Place: A Toolkit for Local Governments
iv Scripps Gerontology Center. “Projections and Characteristics of the 60+ Population
v Surface Transportation Policy Project. “Aging Americans: Stranded without Options.”