Aging and Transportation Smart

aging and transportation-smartly


Smartphones will be a key someday… as older people hang up the car keys for good. The Boomers just don’t know this yet. The technology offers untapped capabilities for transportation as people age-in-place. With a phone in hand, aging Baby Boomers will be able to summon an Uber vehicle, join a car club, reserve a share car, and plan their schedule around the arrival of the next bus or train.
The problem is that there is still a gap, perhaps a gulch, between owning a Smartphone and using its applications. Owning a Smartphone is correlated with income, education, and, of course, age. Using its applications is correlated with something beyond that. For the moment, it is a generational divide.

The Pew Foundation does an annual survey of Smartphone ownership. In 2013, they found that 56 percent of the U.S. population owned one. A third of the population had an older, conventional style cell phone, and only 9 percent had no cell phone at all.


But, this is a case where Boomers were not trend-setters. More than 4 out of 5 young people, ages 18 to 34 owned a Smartphone. Among the youngest of Baby Boomers (those born 1954-1964), the rate was about 50% (Pew’s estimate, of 55%, includes a younger cohort born between 1964 and 1968).

Among bona-fide, mid-age Baby Boomers, ages 55 to 64, Smartphone ownership was only 39 percent. Among those 65 and older, which would have included two years of the Boomer cohort (born in 1946 and 1947) Smartphone ownership dropped to 18 percent.
For younger people, the main barrier to buying a Smartphone was income, but among older groups, the barrier was lack of interest or need. There is another factor too. Among non-users, ages 50 to 64, the Pew research finds that 12 percent say that the Smartphones are too complicated or hard to learn. The percentage agreeing with that statement is about the same for those age 65+.


But, even if Boomers own a Smartphone, and less than half of them do, they do not use it so smartly. The following statistic, from a 2012 Pew report, is sobering.
In the last 30 days , only 20 percent of those ages 50 to 64 used their phone for turn by turn navigation, and the rate fell to 6 percent among those ages 65 plus. Pew reports that using the navigation function, and other Smartphone features, is related to household income and education, as well as age.
It is an irony that so few Boomers use Smartphones for navigation, when so many drivers seem to take out their phones, as soon as they get in the car, to make voice calls (or worse, text) as they drive.

But, that said, for young people, pulling out their Smartphones to summon Uber, check the weather, or book a restaurant is as natural an activity as searching through the phonebook is to an older generation. It is worthwhile noting the people doing the programming for these applications are probably about the same age as the young people using them. That may explain some of their design and process.

“Killer apps” is an expression that used to describe a must have/must download application. For the Boomer demographic, the transportation and navigation functions have not become killers…or slayers. YET. Part of the reason is that only about one-half of this age group have a Smartphone. Among those who own one, the majority has not seen the advantages. Another reason may be that the way that apps work. Their customer interface is not that accessible for those 50 and older. Among the oldest age group, the use of maps and pins, say to summon an Uber, is a fairly daunting task. The screen may seem small, and the buttons confusing.

For a different age group, say middle- aged Boomers, the steps may be clearer, but the privacy concerns figure higher. Among the youngest group of Boomers, a Nextbus application may still feel fairly foreign, when it is just faster and quicker to jump in the car.

All this will evolve, as app developers age and develop more “mature” interfaces. In the short term, a bigger device, like an I-pad or tablet might be purpose loaded with connections to transportation providers and information. In the longer run, it is good to know that the Smartphone can be there as the key, when Boomers need to search for a new one.

Housing Mismatch

etsyDateline Boston:  Home sweet home is getting pricey at both ends of the age spectrum. Young adults and their aging parents are engaged in an escalating and increasingly expensive struggle for….an affordable place to live. The first wave of a housing-mismatch is taking place in Boston, Mass., in San Francisco, Ca., and other metropolitan areas that team with affluent and young tech workers. Boomers live further out, in homes that are too big and need to downsize. Millennials are choosing to live closer-in, and prefer residences that require less upkeep. Neither group (Millennials or Boomers) can find alternatives that are affordable, per Boston Globe writer Deidre Fernandez.

A housing study, completed at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, notes a housing market out-of-synch with its buyers. Millennials are finding it difficult to live where they work and play, and they are also strapped by high rents. It is difficult for them to save for future homes, since 1/3 of their income, sometimes more, is committed to paying the monthly rent.

The research study shows that between 2000 and 2010 Boston, Mass. (Suffolk County) experienced a 10.2% percentage- change growth in population ages 20 to 34, while the further-out suburbs experienced losses. Plymouth Mass., for example, had a 8.9% percentage change loss in younger residents. Over the same time period, average rentals went from an asking price of $1,462 in 2000 to $1,696 in 2010, and in 2014 they escalated to $1,957.

Meanwhile, lower income people are being pushed out further, presumably into the suburbs. Traditional triple-decker homes, a staple of Massachusetts domiciles, were once the province of working class families. Today, Millennials are choosing to live here, as these 3-plex homes are closer-in, near transit, and can accommodate several roommates.

So, the Millennials are moving towards the city- in this case Boston- while the population in the suburbs are getting older and poorer.

This is not promising news for Baby Boomers. If they have intended to unload their home in Massachusetts suburbs like Plymouth or Weymoth and move closer to the city, they will lack for affluent and eager buyers, Although their homes have appreciated, the appreciation may be less than they counted on for a comfortable retirement.

On the other hand, if they decide to age-in-place, their familiar neighborhood may take on a new character. The residents will likely be new immigrant groups, hourly workers who have migrated from the city, and other older people, like themselves. Over time, the tax base will erode- the one that has supported the good libraries, the quality public schools, and other public services. Unless the real estate values continue to appreciate and the fully employed move back, the tax base will not grow.

And, finally– there is the transportation. Always the transportation. With an older population that does not commute on a daily basis, public transportation, always a scarce resource, will be directed towards workers in other locales. Although the Boomers who age-in-place do not place a high priority on public transportation, there will be long drives to shop, to visit, and go to the doctor’s office. The suburban landscape has always been spread out, but it is become more so as malls close, and entertainment and shopping move to the Internet.

Boomers that age-in-place will continue to have their large homes, while a younger generation seeks something smaller, more connected, and most of all, closer-in. The Baby Boomers are a car-centric cohort that have built their lifestyles around automobiles. The Millennials, whether they live in Boston or San Francisco are Digital Natives, and are finding other ways to express their freedom, individuality, and (ahum) drive.

Driverless Car and Aging Drivers

growth of drivers and growth of car ownership US since 1960


The driverless car is a pivotal technology for those who want to age in place, particularly when that place is suburbia. As people get old and more frail, they should consider giving up the car. Instead, they may  continue to drive because there are few other options, particularly in the far-flung suburbs. Just in time  for Baby Boomers, may arrive the disruptive technology called the driverless car. It could fill the vacuum in suburbs left open by the lack of public transportation.

The driverless car is  mysterious and misunderstood today. People often react with a respectful mistrust of robotics and Artificial Intelligence. But, the automated car is like the cell phone. In the 1990’s most people did not have one, and could not picture a use for it. Today, they cannot imagine how they lived without one.

In an earlier blog we wrote about the technology of the driverless car….the mechanical and engineering hurdles that must be resolved. There remain  roadblocks that are as substantive as the engineering. For the driverless car, that roadblock has, and will continue to be,  issues of liability and vehicle insurance. Like any car, accidents will happen. 

That said, there is good news about safety and accidents. There will be less accidents when cars become automated. It is estimated that 40 percent of fatal crashes involve alcohol, drugs, distraction, or fatigue and an estimated 90 percent of all accidents are due to human error. The driverless car brings another advantage: there will be less traffic jams, and better use of road capacity when cars are automated and communicate with a central traffic server. That said, a certain degree of traffic, and a certain level of accidents, will remain.

The Wall St. Journal (3/5/15) reports that at  major insurance agencies are waking up to the “risk factors” from driverless cars and alerting investors. This is an enormous issue for the insurance issue to deal with,  since the Journal reports that they collected $175 billion in passenger car auto insurance issues in 2013.  For the insurance industry, there is a second type of risk, beyond vehicle crashes:  financial risk from an industry sea-change.  The driverless car has been mentioned in security filings by Cincinnati Financial Corp., Mercury General, and Travelers Insurance.

The current assessment  seems to be that the driverless car will transform how car insurance is priced. On the one hand, liability may shift towards the manufacturers of the cars. And, while accidents will be less common,  driverless cars are more complicated, and will be more expensive to repair, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Of course, all of these estimates are early, “risky”, and preliminary.

There is currently  an average 16% turn-over of cars in the US every year. When the driverless car comes to market, it will be  permanently change both the insurance industry and  trends for car-ownership. For those aging in suburbia, it is a disruptive technology that will bring entirely new possibilities.  Aging Boomers are peaking as car-buyers, but they will not be retiring from the future auto markets.