Survey: Arlington seniors are savvy users of public transportation

Seniors in Arlington County, Va., have many similar traits to Millennials when it comes to using public transportation.

This is one of several findings from a survey released today by Mobility Lab for Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS).

“’Aging in place’ is what seniors expect,” said Bobbi Greenberg, acting bureau chief of ACCS. “What we learned in this survey can direct our transportation outreach and investment efforts and help us keep Arlington seniors in their homes and in the communities they love.”

Arlington, where 9.3 percent of the 216,700 population is 65-years-old and older, is a little different than most counties. It is the seventh-richest county in the nation, with a median household income of $98,060. It is also the smallest, most compact county. However, it is similar to the rest of the U.S. in that Arlington seniors do not foresee a time when they will not be able to drive alone.

“Clearly, even if seniors are not planning for a time when they can no longer drive, communities need to plan for a time when a large percentage of their members cannot drive and might need to rely on public transportation and even paratransit services,” said Melissa Paluch, Mobility Lab’s research analyst.

Mobility Lab, with grant funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, hosted two focus groups (on April 26 and 27) consisting of a total of 65 Arlington County seniors. Here is a full list of findings, the full report (PDF), and the full list of questions asked during the focus groups.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Arlington County seniors are similar to Arlington Millennials in that they are active, strategic and use many different transportation options. Though driving is certainly a part of their transportation mix, they also are significant users of Metrorail.
  • They are strategic travelers. Before leaving their homes, they consider a number of factors prior to selecting a transportation mode. These factors include time of day, parking options and availability, destination, mood, time constraints, and planned activities.
  • Being comfortable and confident with the mode is also important and greatly influences whether or not a senior will take a particular transportation option. They want to know where the routes go, where to stand when they wait and how to pay, all before leaving the house. It seemed that lack of comfort and confidence is what kept some seniors from riding the bus, while some are regular users and consider it an “unsung service.” Interestingly, they did not express crime as a concern on public transit. However, they are concerned about safety and reliability of public transportation.
  • Arlington seniors are fairly tech savvy. They are generally comfortable with transportation tasks such as searching options online to using apps on their smartphones. They generally have a young frame of mind and are open to considering new ways of doing things (including trying various modes of transportation) and the latest technology.
  • Although Arlington’s seniors are very much aware of the transportation options available to them, a significant amount are not aware of senior fares available. Additionally, many are not aware that they can use SmartTrip Cards on the bus system and expressed that they are more likely to use the bus now that they have this information.
  • They do not consider the local paratransit services like MetroAccess and STAR in their future travel plans. Those seniors aware of these services have very poor perceptions of the services from word-of-mouth of others who have used them.

In order to help further education about transportation options in Arlington County, the seniors were most positive about the development of a travel-training program, in which volunteers would teach area seniors about services available to them and how to use such options.


Full report: Arlington County Senior Citizens Transportation Study (PDF)

Arlington Seniors Focus Group Discussion Guide

Related article: Seniors, not just Millennials, may be turning away from driver’s licenses

Related article: Transit should cater to similar needs of seniors and Millennials

Our contributor Stephanie K. Firestone’s series of “Age’n Community” blogs and videos

Photo by Abe Landes for DDOT.

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