In academia, book chapters don’t get the recognition they deserve these days yet they can be incredibly useful. In my experience they could test the water with a new theory or idea or be primary data collection and analysis that isn’t quite robust enough to pass peer review but nevertheless paints a new picture or adds to our knowledge, albeit, rather descriptively or with a limited sample or an unusual , novel methodology. They can also be really useful at bringing together strands of research you’ve carried out before under one umbrella or with a novel overarching narrative. It is this approach I’ve taken in a chapter entitled Community Connections and Independence in Later Life I’ve written in a recently published book, Psychologies of Ageing edited by Elizabeth Peel, Carol Holland and Michael Murray. I’ve pasted together all of my knowledge on how an age friendly transport system can help communities stay connected all under one neat model. I’ve used the model to underpin my work prioritising age friendly transport for Greater Manchester and I briefly introduced it in Wales back in 2016 at the Senedd to a group of interested policy makers, following publishing it for Age Cymru. But this is the first time I’ve had time to go through it in-depth and add knowledge and references in each of the areas.
I developed the model using an ecological framework, with different concentric rings surrounding the individual in the middle. Each ring corresponds to a particular factor affecting transport provision for the individual. The concentric nature of the rings shows that all layers have influence on the individual but some are closer to the individual than others. For example, closest to the individual is the neighbourhood level, directly influence people’s connections to community, followed by public or community transport (which has to be accessed through the neighbourhood) and then an outer layer of norms, policies and legislation (which influences both the provision of public and community transport, and the way the neighbourhood looks and feels) . We need to get each layer correct to help people stay connected to their community, especially for those who have limited mobility and for those have do not drive.
Layer 1. Transport system that is planned around the needs, desires and motivations of older people’s mobility
Transport is more important to older people than ever before. In most wealthy and many low and middle income countries, high levels of mobility are traversed in order to stay connected to communities, friends and family and to access shops and services. The car has been central to this hyper-connectivity, and society has become so organised around the car, so much so that those without a vehicle can become socially excluded. Many older people have to give up driving and a truly age friendly transport system must go beyond the car to be fully inclusive.
We must know what the mobility needs are of individuals if we wish to develop and age friendly transport system that connects people to their communities. A model of transport needs developed with Hebba Haddad a few years back, suggests we can place older people’s needs around 3 levels in a hierarchical manner. At the base is the need to get from A to B as practically, quickly, cheaply and easily as possible, to fulfil a non-transport related need, such as shopping or accessing services. Next mobility fulfils what we might call psychosocial needs of older people, the need for freedom, independence, to interact with society and be seen as normal. Finally, at the top, mobility fulfils a need for travel for its own sake, to see life going on around, to feel and experience motion and movement. You can’t satisfy higher level needs under the one below is fulfilled, so we if we don’t the one below right we won’t get the others. I’ve argued that cars have been marketed for years around all 3 levels of needs, yet public and community transport is usually only based on the bottom, practical level of need and this goes a little way to explaining why the public or community offering post the car can be viewed as poor and not meeting needs.
Layer 2: That there are legible and attractive local neighbourhoods for walking (and cycling) in later life
I really like the simplicty of Alfonzo’s Hierarchy of Walking Needs (Alfonzo, 2005) which describes four levels of need: a) accessibility (e.g., direct access to local shops and services); b) safety from crime (e.g., surveillance, hidden spaces); c) comfort (e.g., smooth pedestrian surfaces, segregation of walking from traffic, amount of benches); and d) pleasurability (e.g., vegetation, beauty, historic elements). Similar to my travel needs model, most important needs have to be satisfied before higher needs can be met, so accessibility must be satisfied before safety from crime, comfort and pleasurability. Each of these can be examined in relation to research on barriers to older people’s walking. This model seems to suit the way I’ve come to look at neighbourhoods and walking for older people. Because the book is based in a psychology domain, I highlight the psychological barriers to walking and neighbourhoods. Unless you’re walking for pleasure, walking has become unusual in many western cultures (there are a few exceptions, for example the Netherlands and maybe one or two large city centres, London, Paris etc). Older people are more likely to walk if they get social support from friends or family. People can feel psychologically excluded from their neighbourhood too. Sometimes, older people’s need are forgotten, and it is essential to involve older people more in community planning. Sometimes older people are deliberately designed out – city planning is often viewed to be way cooler when set around the needs of young, vibrant, working community. This ageist view needs to change and for cities to be vibrant they need people of all ages and backgrounds. Excluding older people’s needs from the built environment results in phsycial barriers – a lack of benches, no toilets, poor quality pavements, poor crossings, poor lighting and being too close to speeding traffic and resulting poor air quality and road danger among the issues. I conclude by suggesting spaces need to be convivial, a lovely term I borrowed from an excellent book by an ex-colleague of mine at University West if England, Henry Shaftoe, in his excellent book, Convivial Spaces. I think it sums up perfectly that spaces need to be accessible, but also attractive and desirable for people to use them.
Layer 3: That there is accessible and attractive public and community transport to connect neighbourhoods and communities
Being a psychology book, I wanted to focus on social norms. Older people may have not used a bus for years and one of the major barriers associated with using public transport, such as buses, is the anxiety over the everyday norms of use. We’ve seen a huge increase in the quality and amount of formal information provision on buses including real-time and en-route bus stop information. However, older people are anxious about the norms, for example the normal departure time (e.g. is it sooner than is advertised?), what times of day are less busy? Will there be a seat available? Are buses accessible? How much can be carried? One element that stands out from our previous work, for example our work in Greater Manchester, is staff attitudes. A bus driver can make or break an older person’s journey. A sympathetic driver attuned to older people’s needs, who waits for the passenger to sit down before driving off is invaluable. So too is a “cheery” driver who passes the time of day with the older person. It is similar on trains where station and train staff attitude is crucial to successful journeys and the support needs to include practical help with luggage, direction and train times but also extend to staff having a positive attitude to performing such duties.
Layer 4: That there are safe, supportive and inclusive age friendly transport strategy, policy and plans
The final level deals with the overarching structures that govern the transport provision. In this part, I suggest that transport governance isn’t well set up for the older population. We tend to exclude older people from transport planning because we over emphasise the importance of the transport network to get people to and from work, especially geared around rush hour and especially inter-urban. Older people are less likely to be working, if they do, less likely to be working 9-5 and less likely to be travelling inter-urban, therefore their needs get lost. As noted earlier, we tend to exclude older people from neighbourhood or town planning, again with an over emphasis on building the economy, rather than building society, with again the assumption that older people would not be working. We build homes and routes for work and when we build for leiaure or services, we build access cheaply and for convenience, meaning the car triumphs as the mode to be used. To get better governance we need to disentangle planning from having a direct relationship with the economy and look to wider structures of community and neighbourhood development and enhancement.
A more social approach to transport and town planning needed
I conclude with a call to arms, for a more social approach to transport planning, one that doesn’t ignore the individual and the role of society and one that goes beyond the economic and financial returns on mobility. We’ve traditionally been too focussed on practical barriers and enablers to mobility in later life, which are important but we’ve got bring in the psychological and social elements the norms, the independence, the status and the feeling and moods of mobility. In order to understand transport from the human perspective and answer the transport issues of the day, there is a need a more human-centred approach to transport studies.