Boosting Public Transport Supply to Meet Needs of India’s Aging Population

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.

Mumbai
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. 

 

Why Growing Old in the U.S. Sucks…and There is Nothing (Something) We Can Do About It

Women Celebrating Birthday
I am close to thirty years old. According to the latest data from the World Bank, I can expect to live another 45 to 50 years (Current U.S. life expectancy 78.7 years). However, the quality of those years is up for debate. Our current baby boomer population, on average, is sicker than their parents. The childhood obesity rate for children across the world, but especially in the US, has led many to the conclusion that this generation will become the “sickest generation” in the history of mankind. On top of this, with the population of Americans aged 65 and older expected to double within the next 25 years, there will no doubt be a strain placed on an already taxed healthcare system.

Of course many will argue that numerous aspects of our health are the result of our own personal decision making. This is very true but consider for a second that many individuals, maybe some within your own community, do not have a choice. Maybe they don’t have access to healthy eating options. Maybe they live in an area that exposes them to environmental pollutants. Maybe their occupation requires labor that over time will contribute to chronic pain. For many individuals, we live in a society where the choice has been taken from them or made on their behalf.

For all of us, aging can and possibly will be a difficult process. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a country that has the best intentions, but poor execution. I personally look forward to my next 40-50 years, but I know that many others are not. We must consider that the aging process is not created equal, and that there are many who are and will be unjustly dealt an unfair hand. Aside from the education and outreach initiatives conducted with regard to healthy living and chronic disease, there must be a greater emphasis on policy implementation that catches those at risk. According to the Global AgeWatch Index, Sweden is the best country in the world for the elderly. With reduced costs and an individualized approach, Sweden puts forth a strong effort to ensure the quality of life of its aging population. These efforts illustrate that it’s not impossible for strides to be made in improving or at least maintaining our country’s aging populace.

To give everyone a fair chance, there must be equality at the starting point. It is not enough to expect that public health interventions and education for those at risk for the development of chronic disease will suffice as a method to prevent potential long term health problems. There needs to be more of an effort to eliminate that “risk” to begin with to ensure that children born today, no matter location, race, or socioeconomic status are born with the same expectation of a healthy life. So maybe there is something we can do about it. With time, effort, and collective sacrifice, all Americans can have the opportunity to experience their potential 78.7 years in full health and vitality.

Udo Obiechefu is an E-Tutor for the Master of Health Promotion and Public Health program at Robert Gordon University.