Older Adults, New Mobility, and Automated Vehicles
Published in: AARP website (2021)
Posted on RAND.org on February 18, 2021
Mobility is a life necessity, enabling functions ranging from going to work, to purchasing food, to going to doctors' appointments. Unfortunately, many older adults have comparatively fewer transportation options than their younger counterparts. Even as that perennial problem persists, the transportation landscape is rapidly shifting. The introduction of shared-use mobility, such as carsharing, ridehailing, bikesharing, and shared e-scooters, offer new options and potential solutions. Related to these shifts are the automated vehicle (AV) and related technologies.
These innovations may expand the transportation options available to older adults, but their deployment is proceeding in a context where the safety, accessibility, affordability, equity, and livability effects on older adults are not well understood. In starting to define that knowledge gap, we conducted preliminary research on the potential benefits and harms to older adults that arise from the introduction of AVs into an already emerging transportation ecosystem that includes new shared mobility options and Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Our methods included a review of the available literature, interviews with subject matter experts, and convening a roundtable that included policymakers, technologists, private sector transportation companies, and other researchers.
From our research we developed a framework of key factors relating to mobility for older adults that is presented in this paper. The framework is intended to guide planning for new mobility and AVs, and ensure older adults' needs are considered and met. While our focus is older adults, we recognize the importance of universal design—which aims to support all potential users—and so the factors identified and discussed in the framework could benefit anyone, not just older adults. Indeed, the potential to benefit many populations might broaden the base of support for corresponding actions.
The subject matter experts we engaged agreed with the issues represented in the framework as well as with the need for such a framework. A lack of consensus on who (federal, state, local governments, private sector companies, and/or advocacy groups) should be responsible for addressing the issues represented in the framework is worrisome. Policy development and a conscious effort to drive beneficial outcomes are reliant on addressing the appropriate roles for the public and private sectors. Moreover, our research found limited attention being given to addressing the needs of hardest-to-serve older adults and people with disabilities—those with limitations (physical, cognitive, multiple disabilities, financial, technology access/understanding) or certain specific needs (transportation that accommodates mobility aids, low-income, rural location). These populations could see an overall reduction of transportation options due to the possible impacts of AVs and new shared mobility on public transportation. Our findings point toward several ideas for next steps that can help ensure improvements to older adult mobility.