In light of some high-profile automobile accidents involving older drivers Massachusetts has begun the policy discussion regarding enforcing more stringent licensing requirements for those individuals.  State legislators and DOT officials are contemplating a range of requirements to protect the elderly as well as other drivers and pedestrians.

I support measures that require older drivers (i.e. drivers over 65 or 75) to renew licenses more frequently than other drivers and ensure that the renewal involves a driving test and vision test.  This is not age-based discrimination, but rather steps necessary to protect all people on the road.  However, such restrictions which may limit and indeed deny many older individuals access to the driver’s wheel need to be coupled with increased access to public transportation and paratransit services.

I researched precisely these issues this semester in an independent study.  Here is a selection from my research:

While not all elderly individuals are disabled, age significantly affects the ability of people to drive, forcing them to rely on means of public transportation. Cognitive and physical abilities decline as people age, and elderly drivers are the drivers most likely to be in a crash except those under 25. The aging of the body affects drivers in many ways: declining vision affects the ability to judge distance and speed, metabolism changes slow reaction times, and withering muscle mass increases the difficulty of making rapid movements like sudden braking.  Elderly drivers are also more likely to be injured in a car crash than other drivers.

More to the point, older drivers are more likely than younger drivers to be killed in car crashes relative to miles traveled; drivers 85 and older have a fatality rate in crashes nine times higher than drivers 25 to 69 for each mile driven.  Many states are taking proactive measures to protect the elderly and other passengers and pedestrians by requiring older drivers to renew their drivers’ licenses.  Illinois and New Hampshire already require drivers over 75 applying to renew their drivers’ licenses to take a driving test and a vision test.  While New Hampshire and Illinois have the most restrictive regulations, other state have taken precautions, such as Iowa, which requires drivers over 70 to renew their licenses every two years in person with a vision test, rather than every five years for younger drivers.

Elderly Americans without cars are severely restricted in their ability to be active members of society.  Regardless of the reasons why elderly people do not drive, for the 21% of Americans over 65 who do not experience 15% fewer trips to the doctor, 59% fewer shopping trips and outings to restaurants and 65% fewer trips for social, family and religious activities than their driving peers.  These issues are already becoming particularly pressing in certain areas of the country, such as Florida where 19.6% of the driving population is over 65 and older; the national average is 14.9% of the driving population is 65 and older.

Some states, such as Arkansas, where drivers over 65 account for 29% of all accidents, may be compelled to deal with these issues sooner than later.  There is also an ethnic justice component to the need for improved public transportation for the elderly, because minorities are disproportionately affected by the lack of transit options. In the population of Americans over 65 just 16% of white people do not drive, but 42% of African Americans, 39% of Latinos and 45% of Asian Americans do not drive.

Unfortunately, all the transportation safety news tends to focus on airlines, especially given the attempted terrorist detonation last week.  However, America’s roads are still the most deadly form of transportation.  The elderly desire, deserve and need transportation as much as anyone else, but not at the expense of others’ safety.

As the baby boomers age and the elderly population grows (The United States Census Bureau estimates that in 2010 there will be 5,751,000 people over 85 and by 2050 there will be 19,041,000 people over 85, accounting for 4.3% of the projected overall American population of 439 million.) the needs of this population will only become more apparent.  We need to develop alternative means that are coherent with general transportation, especially public transportation, priorities.  Or else our grandparents and us will all be in unnecessary danger every day.


Subway_Gates

There is an awful lot of nastiness going on in Massachusetts transportation circles, to put it lightly.  The latest issue regards a potential 19.5% fare hike at the MBTA and whether or not is needed at this moment.  The T’s finances are too complicated for me to weigh in on whether a hike is necessary.

That said, what is going on is indicative of the larger problem of leaving fare increases to periodic public discussion and implementation.  No one wants to see fares go up, but it is economic insanity to think fares can always remain the same price (such thinking killed many nickel trolley lines at the beginning of the 20th century).  Transportation–like any business–faces rising costs based on inflation and demand for greater services.  The latter is a good thing.

I understand that many economically needy people depend on public transit and that any increase in their monthly fare can be a serious hardship.  However, as opposed to facing large increases every 5 to 10 years, I think transit agencies should work with states to legislate a standard increase every 2 to 4 years.

I would propose an agency implementing something like an automatic 9% increase, rounded to the nearest nickel, every three years.  This is in line with 10.25% inflation rate that occurred between 2005 and 2008 and 8.6% rate between 2002 and 2005 in the United States.  For example, let’s take an imaginary transit system where fares are currently $1.50 a ride.  My suggestion would result in the following fares.

  • 2010: $1.65
  • 2013: $1.80
  • 2016: $1.95
  • 2019: $2.10
  • 2022: $2.30

I understand that there are political and social consequences to such automatic action and many low-wage passengers might be hurt.  However, this should alert us to the inequities experienced by low-wage laborers, not the problem of charging reflective fares for public transit.

Part of the problem is we’re conditioned to believe the price of transportation should be a choice as most roads are free and highway tolls rarely change.  However, that’s a reflection of government subsidies, not true costs.  Transit fares must rise occasionally to keep up with costs; every fare hike should not be a political crisis.  Hopefully a system that institutes fair automatic fare increases will make government more likely to provide fair adequate subsidies for public transit systems.

MagLev

Welcome back to Part 2 of our trip through the highlights of state transportation websites.  Today we’ll go alphabetically from Illinois to Missouri.

Illinois: Ever care to know how bridges are kept free of ice?  Me neither.  But this video of a salt spray truck is wonderfully esoteric.

Indiana: INDOT is full of great information, such as the benefits of rail (e.g. Railroads are a vital component in the nation’s economy. Railroads move over 40 percent of all tonmiles of intercity freight, nearly as much as trucks, barges, and airlines combined)!  However, the coolest part of the site in my opinion is the link to multiple GIS maps of Indiana.

Iowa: I’m a sucker for good maps.  This one of the bike trails of Iowa is full of detail.  I’m tempted to buy a roof rack (and a car) to go riding in Iowa.

Kansas:  The DOT links to the Kansas Transportation Online Community, which has another video, called Behind the Vest, on the lives of highway workers.

Kentucky: A state without much in the way of mass transit — despite two large urban centers — is promoting cleaner air via common sense activities like carpooling and bicycling.

Louisiana: The Department of Transportation and Development has a glossary of terms, including the appropriate alligator cracking.  Other intriguing terms include raveling and California profilograph.

Maine: Ever since I read Travels with Charley Maine has a rustic allure.  However, Maine apparently also has a long railroad history, and it makes you appreciate how old this technology is and what a shame it is that we’ve so underutilized it over the past century.

Maryland:   The region is exploring the possibility of a maglev link between Baltimore and D.C.  Also, the state is giving away free calculators in an effort to get people to calculate the saving in better transportation methods.

Massachusetts: In shocking news, the state reported that public transportation save money, fuel and time for the people and the state.  What do you know?

Michigan: I cannot resist posting these pictures of the famous Mackinac,mackinac dividing the Yoopers from the Trolls.

Minnesota: This will appeal to a small segment of the population, but here is the Duluth public transportation service map.

Mississippi: I am all for anti-litter campaigns, such as the famous “Don’t Mess with Texas.”  However, Myrtle the Turtle?  I’m not so sure about this one.

Missouri: I’m from New Jersey.  Maybe that’s why highway beautification via junkyard concealment seems a tad bit ridiculous.

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