Design Research toward Viable Bus Use for an Aging Population

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Abstract

Older Americans are increasing in numbers and addressing their needs through better public transportation design will improve their quality of life. This study sought to increase understanding of the obstacles faced by people with impairments in vision, hearing, and/or mobility, which are common issues for older people, and generate physical product solutions. The research was conducted to conceptualize products, structures, and services to reduce or eliminate these obstacles. With a focus on the Eugene, Oregon public bus system, elderly riders were surveyed and interviewed. Designers rode on buses noting what worked well and where problems arose. Five ride-along observations of older and disabled persons who had mobility, hearing, and/or vision impairments were conducted. Two focus groups at Lane County Independent Living Alliance (LILA) with experts on public transportation and disabilities were conducted. This research shows that aging riders face conceptual, physical, and social barriers that impact their willingness to use buses. Using the bus was seen as inconvenient, time consuming, physically draining, and potentially frustrating. Priority seating areas designated for older and disabled users fill quickly. People with mobility challenges may use bulky walkers and require the availability of grab bars, and users of wheeled mobility devices need different device security. Several situations noted in the study show that physically challenged riders are subject to awkward, uncomfortable social dynamics more than other bus users. Innovation in easy access seats and secure WhMD stations at the front of the bus are critical for older users, as it makes riding the bus less draining and more safe.