Older people's everyday travel – Choice of travel mode and experience of public transport

The starting point for this study is to gain deeper understanding of how older women and men use public transport, but also to enhance the understanding of whether they are using other means of transport and what the basis for their choices is. The study’s interest is in the variations and patterns in their narratives.

To make it possible for older people to live an active life with good quality high demands should be met for the transport system, e.g. availability and safety. If not, there will be a large number of people at risk of not coming out. Because the elderly are a heterogeneous group, a single type of transport does not fit all. Previous studies show that men and women generally travel in different ways during their working life. The present report is a study of how retired women’s and men’s experience of public transport is related to other transport modes.

The aim of this study is to examine how older people describe their decisions to travel, and how they experience their everyday transports. To grasp the heterogeneity among older people the subjects involved were recruited from both urban and rural areas. They have different backgrounds, age and gender. The majority of them are ethnic Swedish people. However, the study also included people with different ethnic background.

The study includes 30 qualitative interviews with older people. 18 women and 12 men aged 58–94 years were interviewed. Fifteen interviewees also wrote travel diary for two weeks. The analysis of the study is based on the interviewees’ stories (narratives).

Salient in the results of this study is how differently the interviewees describe their daily lives and what opportunities they have to transport themselves. Above all they describe the desires and needs that are perceived. Mobility barriers are noticeable in the inter¬viewees’ stories, but also strategies they have developed to make their everyday travel work.
The respondents often transported themselves by walking, sometimes even by bicycle; actually many chose walking or bicycling before bus or car. They stressed the import¬ance of coming out and meeting other people, and moving around in different environments. They even referred to the importance of health reasons.

Elements of restrictions appear in some of their stories which are not always by their own choice and must therefore be considered in future planning so that these individuals are not left out of the contexts they need and want to participate in. Examples of restrictions might be long distance to the bus stop, stairs, travel centers and other interchanges at different levels/floors, timetables that are not synchronized or buses at times that do not fit older people’s daily activity patterns. Except from deficiencies in public transport, it can also be about cycle paths or sidewalks that abruptly end at a difference in level, or stairs to the next available accessible area. When the whole chain of move¬ments in the transport environment is not available, problems may occur. For the oldest respondents, it is particularly important that the 'whole journey' works.

It is more common that the younger respondents travel by car and the interviewees also refer to car driving as an activity when one is reasonably young and healthy. But a lot of them are still driving at the age of 80–90, some even after the 90th birthday, which indicate that it is not until you can no longer drive a car as you become more dependent on society's resources and of other people. Decreased independence, this implies, occurs later and later in life, which clearly shows the problem of discussing older people's mobility on the basis of chronological age. The habits, capacities and abilities are incredibly varied among the elderly.

The women in the present study describe the bus in more positive terms than men. Many of those who want to travel by bus believe that the bus is a good means of transport and describe it in certain ways: efficient, safe, environmentally friendly and economically efficient. More women than men in the study also describe that they are happy to choose other means of travel in instead of the car in order to be able to relax, watch and meet other people, but also to have some time for themselves.

The results also show that very old people sometimes opt out of a trip "with the right of age." One can, after having carried out one or two longer trips during a week choose not to travel because it is tiring. Choosing a day at home, or to opt out of a planned activity or invitation, should not be seen as negative per se, however, it is important to note that the need for service and social interaction do not necessarily decrease at old age.


  • People in the transport system
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  • Old people
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  • Man
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  • Woman
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  • Journey
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  • Behaviour
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  • Mobility (pers)
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  • Public transport
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  • Transport mode
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  • Choice
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  • Interview
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  • Research area: People in the transport system
  • Published: 2011-12-22
  • VTI-code: R734

VTI rapport 734 (59 pages + 1 Appendix including 1 page, written in Swedish with an English summary)

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