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Older people's transport subsidy is "unsustainable"

Words: Huw Morris

Most of the government's £927 million annual subsidy for older people's public transport should be diverted to wider travel needs, engineers said today.

Branding the universal subsidy as "unattainable", the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said while some public funds should be reserved to help the "vulnerable few", most of the money should be used to improve accessibility to the transport network.

Instead, the bulk of the £927 million should go towards providing clearer signage and public announcements, installing more escalators and moving pavements, more seating at stops and stations as well as adapting ticket machines to make them more user-friendly.

Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of healthcare Helen Meese said although the subsidy is aimed at encouraging older people to use public transport, much of the UK's transport network remains inaccessible and difficult for them to use.

"It is vital that the funds are diverted to make the transport network more accessible, which will help older people stay active for longer," she said. "About half of older travellers have no private form of transport available and depend on public transport for daily necessities like shopping or visiting the GP.

“By 2021, 20 per cent of the urban population in the UK will be over 65. As the number of older people rises, not only will the transport subsidy become increasingly unsustainable, there will be greater demand for the transport network to cater for this growing user group."

The institution said the government had produced best practice guidance for planners to tailor transport solutions for older and disabled people, yet much of the UK’s network remains virtually unchanged since the 1950s or even Victorian times.

Where there have been innovations, few are aimed specifically at the ageing population, and some developments such as web-based booking or journey planning are a hindrance for many older people, it added.

Meese said: “It is time for joined-up thinking between the government and public transport providers to improve existing services and to introduce new technologies and designs that specifically cater for older people, who are set to be an increasingly larger proportion of the UK population.”