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Only one in ten older adults in Ireland rely on public transport - new TILDA report

  • 58% of adults aged 50 and over living in rural areas rate the public transport services in their area as poor or very poor
  • Report authors stress need for improved transport networks that meet the needs of older people, especially in rural areas.
  • April 13th, 2017:

    A new report launched today by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin and supported by the Road Safety Authority shows that most older adults rely on cars for transport, as opposed to public transport. It details major differences in the use of public transport between Dublin residents and those living in rural Ireland and reports a serious level of dissatisfaction with rural public transport amongst the over 50s living outside Dublin.

    The report details how patterns of transport use change with increasing age and highlights the importance of accessibility to quality transport options for social participation, mental health and wellbeing. The report authors suggest that as the population ages, there is an increasing need for improved transport networks and services that meet the needs of older adults, especially in rural areas.

    Key findings:

    • Mode of transport used:
      • Nine out of ten adults aged 50 years and over in Ireland (89%) travel mainly by car, as a driver or passenger.
      • Just under one in ten adults aged 50 years and over (9%) mainly use public transport.
      • One-quarter of adults living in Dublin city/county rely mainly on public transport compared to just 2% of adults in rural areas, reflecting the vast differences in transport services available.
      • Quality of public transport: 58% of adults aged 50 and over living in rural areas rate the public transport services in their area as poor or very poor. Common issues include the limited bus routes or threatened closure of existing routes, inconvenient schedules and low frequency of services.
      • Free travel pass: Almost one in three Dublin based adults with a free travel pass use public transport (29%) compared to just 10% of adults in other town/cities and 3% of those living in rural areas. For a substantial proportion of older adults, a free travel pass seems to have limited benefit.
    • Effect of age on transport patterns:
      • As people get older, they are less likely to drive themselves and more likely to rely on lifts from others. This is particularly evident in women where 72% of 50-64 year olds drive themselves compared to 30% of those aged over 75, while 55% of women over 75 travel mainly as car passengers.
      • Use of public transport increases only marginally with age, which may reflect both the greater convenience of travelling by car and the lack of suitable public transport options available.
    • Effects on lifestyle and health:
      • One in five adults aged 75 years and over and living in rural areas (19%) indicate that the lack of local transport facilities affects their lifestyle. 12-18% of the same age group indicate that reduced frequency of driving or no longer driving affects their ability to socialise, attend business-related appointments and health/social care appointments.
      • Adults whose main mode of transport is driving themselves or travelling by public transport report greater participation in social activities and volunteering compared to those who rely on lifts from others.
      • Non-drivers (including those who used to drive in the past) report higher levels of depressive symptoms and loneliness and lower quality of life compared to current drivers.
    • 75% of households own at least one car and three quarters of those who drive regularly, do so every day.

    Dr Orna Donoghue, TILDA Project Manager and one of the authors of the report, commented: "Many individuals, especially those in rural areas, must travel to access key services such as shops, banks, post offices and health and social care services. In recent years, many of these rural services have closed and moved to larger towns and cities, which can make it more difficult for those who rely on lifts from others and/or public transport to access these services as regularly and as easily as they once did. In many cases, a car is the only way for these individuals to access these services and interact with others in their communities."

    Dr Donoghue continued: "A reduction in mobility, driving or available public transport options can also affect people's ability to attend events and social occasions and this can represent a huge lifestyle shift for older adults. TILDA reports have repeatedly shown that participation in social and leisure activities outside of the home is important for both health and social benefits".

    Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA noted "A two-fold increase in the Irish population aged 65 years and over has been projected for 2041 which will lead to an increase in the number of older drivers. However, as people get older, their patterns of transport use will change meaning that greater numbers of people will rely on public transport or family and friends for getting around. Consequently, as the population ages, we need to address the challenge of improved transport networks and services that meet the specific needs of older adults, especially in rural areas. Retaining public transport links and/or identifying alternative means of providing transport is required, and this is especially pertinent given the current challenges to the provision of public transport."

    TILDA is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Health and Irish Life plc. This report was supported by the Road Safety Authority.

    Media contact:

    Orna Donoghue, Project Manager, TILDA, Trinity College Dublin, at

    Yolanda Kennedy, Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Science, Trinity College Dublin, at