India’s elderly population is expected to rise by 360% between 2000 and 2050 and contributes to 20% of the total population. Due to population growth, infrastructure in India has to keep up with the demographic change by providing accessible and affordable public transportation, which is vitally important. India boasts of a well-connected transportation system with trains, buses, metro systems, auto rickshaws and taxis in urban as well as, to a lesser extent, rural areas. Despite the plethora of transportation options, many of these services are beyond the reach of the elderly population.
The large number of people utilizing public transportation is a major hindrance for the elderly. For example, in Chennai, a south Indian city, the elderly complain of how government buses are always crowded. While there are seats reserved for the elderly in these buses, it is hard to avail of these services. In Mumbai, another metropolis, trains are the preferred means of transport because they are fast, cheap and reliable. However, they are extremely crowded which makes it really difficult for senior citizens to get in the train. Like the buses in Chennai, these trains too have reserved seating for the elderly.
Another major issue is affordability. As Ravi Samuel of Vision Age India states, “If elderly people cannot afford private transport, it is very difficult for them to commute or attend social, religious and family functions.” Those who can afford it use the relatively expensive modes of transportation which include rickshaws and taxis. They can be hailed from anywhere, depending on the city.
There are national guidelines for age-friendly transportation in place. These include 2 reserved seats for the elderly in the front of the bus, fare concessions and subsidized bus passes, 30% concessions on trains, separate counters for senior citizens, ramps at stations for greater accessibility, disability-friendly train coaches and fare concessions by several major public and private airlines. It is heartening to see that many cities and/or states go above and beyond these guidelines.
For instance, Mumbai is currently petitioning for elderly-only compartments in all trains at the Bombay High Court. New Delhi, the country’s capital, has introduced low-floor buses. Since their introduction, the number of senior citizen bus passes has increased from approximately 255,000 in 2007-08 to 1,100,000 in 2013-14. These buses also display ticker messages on aboard buses, reminding passengers to not occupy or block the seats meant for the elderly.
Initiatives like these are great first steps towards accommodating the elderly population. Yet, it is important to remember that transportation is but one aspect of infrastructure that needs to be worked on. A cross-sectional approach, incorporating sectors such as housing, education, roads, law-enforcement and town planning, is necessary to provide an easier and holistic lifestyle for the elderly population in India.
Namratha Rao is currently pursuing her MSPH in International Health in Social and Behavioral Interventions at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.