Time to tackle problem of senior citizens and public transport

Call for tailor-made on demand public transport for seniors in Illawarra


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New ideas: A University of Wollongong study said special options for senior citizens needed to be created to help them use public transport. Picture: Christopher Chan

New ideas: A University of Wollongong study said special options for senior citizens needed to be created to help them use public transport. Picture: Christopher Chan

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Senior citizens in the Illawarra need tailor-made on-demand public transport options to counter the gaps in the bus network, according to a University of Wollongong academic.

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Senior citizens in the Illawarra need tailor-made on demand public transport options to counter the gaps in the bus network, according to a University of Wollongong academic.

Lecturer in transport at the UOW SMART facility Dr Bobby Du is in the middle of a study into the public transport needs of Wollongong's senior citizens.

The research follows on from similar work he had previously conducted in Singapore and China.

"We found that, no matter which country, seniors always have problems in taking public transport," Dr Du said.

The study used Opal card data to track senior citizens' usage of public transport.

The free Gong Shuttle was not included in the research because passengers are not required to tap on and off with an Opal card.

As part of the research his team conducted interviews with senior citizens and found distance to a bus stop or train station hampered their ability to use public transport.

"Some of the people we interviewed, in their suburb there is no single bus stop or train station nearby," Dr Du said.

"Some seniors will ask a family member to drive them to the train station so they can take the train."

There are alternative transport options available, from the state government's trial of on demand buses in Shellharbour and the Illawarra's northern suburbs to taxis and rideshare services like Uber.

But Dr Du said they can often be expensive or need to be booked via an app which can be a problem for seniors.

"For younger people they can book a responsive bus, a taxi or an Uber using their own mobile phone app but seniors have some difficulty in using such mobile apps," he said.

"Based on my interview of some seniors most of them claim that they have mobile phones but they only use them to make calls."

The second stage of Dr Du's research will look for ways to fix the app issue, and provide tailor-made on demand services for seniors - who will often have physical and mental issues not shared with other transport users.

"We're thinking about something different, maybe we could provide responsive buses," he said.

"We can provide some assistive device or assistive mobile app - like with voice recognition rather than having to type in some text to book a bus.

"It might not be a door-to-door service. We can use the Opal card data to understand the most-visited locations for seniors, for example from their home to the hospital, the shopping mall and so on.

"Maybe just a couple of locations, then we can provide point to point services to there."

Illawarra Mercury

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