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Listening to seniors, customising solutions
Transportation operators cater services to the elderly

The news is good: Europeans are living longer and staying healthier than ever before. But the impact on public services is significant. Fortunately Europe’s transportation providers are realising that there is more to serving the ageing adult market segment than simply offering discounted fares and off-peak specials.

“Social inclusion” was once an elusive concept to many people, but is now a top consideration for public officials. EU initiatives, such as naming 2012 as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, are helping to put the spotlight on the importance role that seniors play in our society. The "Attaining Energy-Efficient Mobility in an Ageing Society" (ANEAS) project, in the framework of the Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) programme, is becoming an international reference in the field of urban mobility of older people. Many cities participating in the CIVITAS Initiative, which helps European cities test and develop sustainable urban mobility solutions, are listening to the needs of this fast growing, but still “niche” market.

Zagreb, Funchal and Gent are examples of cities that have listened specifically to the ageing market segment and responded in innovative ways.

When designing and improving public transport services a “listening” approach can be systematically applied to any group of users: the elderly, ethnic minorities, the disabled, immigrants, single parents, lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, or transgender individuals. At a recent CIVITAS workshop on social inclusion, the transgender community brought their views forward, for instance, through their TGEU Statement on realising social inclusion through sustainable transport. To ensure that public transportation remains inviting for the entire population, marginalised passengers’ concerns must always be taken into account.

The key to success: listening
Zagreb officials are educating senior citizens in innovative and thoughtful ways.
Zagreb officials are educating senior citizens in innovative and thoughtful ways.

Zagreb, for example, has learned that catering to the city’s senior population is not an overnight process, and success is not defined by simply adding services. Rather, leaders have carefully solicitedinput from the target group, and provided customised responses.

Lidija Pavić-Rogošić is the Director of ODRAZ - Održivirazvojzajednice, a Zagreb-based organisation committed to sustainable community development, and one of the partners in CIVITAS ELAN. Zagreb is faced with significant traffic congestion in the city centre and theCity of Zagreb, the public transport operatorZET, ODRAZ and other project partners are responding with improvements in conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

“When we looked at the accident rates on public transport in Zagreb we noted that there was a higher rate of involvement of the elderly. This made it clear that we needed to take this special group into consideration,” Pavić-Rogošić said.

Zagreb saw how transport operators in Salzburg had succeeded in communicating with elderly passengers. Officials there proved how education sessions worked best when drivers were involved -- not just administrators, not just PT managers, and not just passengers. So Zagreb created a highly interactive workshop concept withdrivers and traffic police, and holds these workshops at senior citizen centres across the city. Toolsthat bring the messages to lifeinclude a leaflet and a consumer-friendly video clip.

A series of tips for maximising the PT experience is shared, and workshop attendees are reminded of relevant information, such as the best way to use the support straps in a moving bus, and how to subscribe for and use the new electronic transport cards in the Zagreb system. Since February 2011, 500 senior citizens have been reached through the workshops, and more sessions are planned.

Organisers learned that many seniors thought the only public transportation “benefit” available to them was a traditionally discounted fare. But that is far from reality, Pavić-Rogošić explained. Buses and trams with lower floors to allow safer and more comfortable access, newly installed displays at transportation stops across the city to inform passengers about the wait time, security cameras and surveillance measures to enhance overall security, and longer green traffic light cycles to enable pedestrians sufficient time to cross are just a few of the improvements that enhance a senior citizen’s experience.

New ways of thinking
Officials in Funchal, Portugal, have created a customised PT solution for seniors living in the hilly, hard-to-access neighbourhood of Santa Luzia.
Officials in Funchal, Portugal, have created a customised PT solution for seniors living in the hilly, hard-to-access neighbourhood of Santa Luzia.

Mira Papež, a retired economic technician living in Zagreb attended a recent workshop. “I use public transport every day and I am very pleased with the improvements that have been made in recent years. The new low-floor trams allow me a much easier entry and exit. Also, bus and tram displays with real time information help me to more easily plan my travel.˝

Pavić-Rogošić is convinced that the workshop approach is key to improving the transportation experience for seniors in Zagreb. “Thanks to the feedback we receive at the workshops, we know that we need to continue to change the mind-set of this special user group. Not until very recently did we realise the importance of the needs of the elderly. Now we know that providing discounted tickets for senior citizens is only one small piece of the equation. We are creating a range of measures to inspire and encourage seniors to rely on public transportation to stay mobile and active.”

Many of Zagreb’s solutions, including closed-circuit television cameras, were also applied to public transportation systems in CIVITAS ELAN cities Ljubljana and Brno.

In recent years, officials in Funchal, the capital city of the island of Madeira in Portugal, noted an increasing – unsolicited – demand from residents for a public transportation solution. The neighbourhood of Santa Luzia is particularly hilly, and has clusters of narrow residential streets. Horários do Funchal(the local transport operator) responded to citizen feedback, and launched a series of in-depth studies to determine what transportation measures would be best utilised.

Claudio Mantero is in the research and planning department and serves as the site leader in Funchal for CIVITAS MIMOSA. He said that the research results confirmed a suspicion: there was a very high percentage of retired residents living in Santa Luzia. In fact, the average age of potential public transportation users was found to be 60 years old.

“Based on the local questionnaires, we learned that if a public transportation option existed in their neighbourhood, 70 per cent would use it instead of taking their own vehicle to reach the city centre,” Mantero said.

These figures were enough to convince public transport operators to launch a new service customised for seniors. Just a few weeks after the study was concluded, implementation of a “Dial & Ride” bus began. A new low-emission mini-bus, equipped by Horários do Funchal and co-financed by the Regional Development Fund Program (ERDF), provides the service. The8-metre bus can carry up to 17 seated passengers and two wheelchairs, and is designed to tackle the hilly terrain of Santa Luzia. In comparison, typical city buses – upwards of 12 metres long – are too large to handle narrow streets, hills and tight curves.

“Since the Dial & Ride service takes me to and from the city centre, it is now far easier to pick up groceries in the market and take them home with me,” said resident Maria Pinheiro. “Before this service started I had to do these kinds of errands by taxi, and that was much more expensive.”

Raising awareness, changing “the norm”

Users are satisfied with the service, but organisers still face obstacles. “It’s a difficult service to maintain because there is no tradition for this. Whenever you begin a totally new offer, there is a steep learning curve on the part of potential users,” Mantero said.

There is always room for progress, he added. “To ensure that we reach our target group, we are considering going door-to-door in the neighbourhood to speak with passengers and help them understand how the Dial & Ride service works, and how easy it is to use.”

Like Zagreb and Funchal, Gent is bringing to life the theme of European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations in an especially tangible manner. By inviting seniors to a face-to-face debate with teens, the two generations connected in an animated discussion about travel habits and mobility behaviour on buses and trams.

“Essentially we wanted to open up the dialogue so youth could listen to seniors and vice versa,” said Patty Delanghe, Local Dissemination manager in Gent for CIVITAS ELAN. “We realised that each generation doesn’t always understand, and therefore don’t always tolerate, the other generation’s typical behaviour. For example, the teens asked why the ‘old people’ have to take the tram in the morning, when teenagers are on their way to school.”

The lively debate uncovered many answers that are helping build solidarity. Now, for example, more of Gent’s elderly population understands that the reason many groups of teens ‘need’ to listen to loud music in the bus is simply to help them bond with their friends… not to annoy the other passengers!

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