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The aging population becomes an increasing concern in most countries of the world due to increasing life expectancy and technological advancement. Widespread barriers of the elderly participation in society are commonly reflected in the physical barriers of the built environment, which includes public transport infrastructure. In addition to distance, poor access to transportation means that those who do not have private transport are less likely to access services. Even where public transport is available, the times and frequency of service may discriminate against its use. Journeys may take too long, or services may be too infrequent, perhaps requiring elderly users to spend too long at their destination, or that the public transportation itself presents as a barrier for use. This paper aims to present the challenges faced among the elderly in using public transport and to explore initiatives and policies in improving public transport accessibility in two Southeast Asian countries. Results of the study show that appropriate measures to improve accessibility in public transportation and promote inclusion among the elderly still lags behind. Responding effectively to the aging population entails accommodating their needs for mobility and promoting policies that envision "a society for all ages" in public transportation.
Keywords: accessibility, elderly, inclusion, public transport, southeast asia
Providing accessible and efficient public transport is an important component of sustainable urban development. It provides people with access to opportunities across the metropolitan region and mobility without necessitating the ownership of a private automobile. Achieving transportation sustainability through the provision and widespread use of mass transit is an important goal sought after by local governments in many urban areas across the world. Increasing costs of fuel as well as the associated social and environmental effects of motoring together entails the need for mass transportation as an important and cost-effective modal choice for various users - one which can provide safe and efficient urban mobility to large numbers of people. There is an ongoing issue over how to enable 'active transportation' through walking, bicycling, and mass transit and make it more accessible to various users, particularly those who are vulnerable (Figure 1), in order to meet larger goals of public health, social equity, and economic viability (Falcocchio & Cantilli, 1974; Frumkin et al., 2004).
Figure 1. Typology of Vulnerable User Groups in Transportation
Source: Falcocchio & Cantilli, 1974
Accommodating the transportation needs of the elderly is inevitable as a significant number of them are often become less willing or able to drive, making it necessary to depend on alternative methods of transportation. Despite high levels of transit ridership in cities around Southeast Asia such as Bangkok and Manila, the physical infrastructure of mass transit (buses, metro systems, etc.) is delivered to users in ways that are based on problematic assumptions. In effect, users are almost always expected to be fully able-bodied and literate. Such systematic assumptions about the supposed 'normalcy' of users translate to exclusion to those who face chronic or temporary difficulties in using a mass transit system (Audirac 2008; Bromley, Matthews, and Thomas 2007).
Widespread barriers to the elderly participation in society are commonly reflected in the physical barriers of the built environment, which includes public transport infrastructure. In addition to distance, poor access to transportation means that those who do not have private transport are less likely to access services. Even where community or public transport is available, the times and frequency of service may discriminate against its use. Thus, the elderly faces the double burden of transit use given their age and vulnerabilities to impairment.
Ensuring that public transport is provided in ways that ensure reasonable accessibility to all users should be a baseline priority for the governments and agencies responsible for attending to the needs of society. The use of public transportation is a major key to community participation, productivity, and independence for the elderly where they cannot be able to drive a motor vehicle. Mass transit services which include buses and trains are frequently the only options for these groups of people for traveling independently to work, health care facilities, shopping centers, and a host of other places in the community. Failure to expand and sustain accessibility options for the elderly would lead to further negative social and economic consequences to the future of these individuals. These circumstances would result to heightened safety risks, limit options, impede mobility, isolation and reduced independence and diminished quality of life and health.
State of the Elderly in the Philippines and Thailand
Countries in the Southeast Asian region are seeking ways to deal with new welfare demands for the ageing population. The elderly population of the countries considered in this research has different sets of features and dynamics that are attributed to the economic, social and cultural occurrences. Those who attain a certain age beyond the required legal working age, from 55-60 in most countries, are considered for retirement and may fall under the elderly group (United Nations, 2009). Titheridge et al. (2009) pointed that reaching retirement could lead to changes in a person's lifestyle as well as travel behavior.
Like many developing countries, the Philippines is experiencing both rapid urbanization and an increasing number of the elderly. The 2000 Philippine Census of Population and Housing registered 4.6 million senior citizens, accounting for 5.97% of the total population. This number registered a 22.18% increase from 1995 (3.7 million people) (NSO, 2005; Ogena, 2008). The elderly population grew at 4.39% during the 1995 to 2000 period and is estimated to reach 7% in 2009 (United Nations, 2009). If the growth rate continues, the number of senior citizens is expected to reach seven million in 2010 and to 26 million in 2050. The rapidly increasing absolute number of the elderly is attributed to its declining fertility rate and increasing life expectancy and the density of Filipinos.
In the Philippines, healthy ageing entails fulfilling the desire of the elderly for a more comfortable life not only for themselves but also for their loved ones.
Thailand's classification of the older population or elderly refer to persons age 60 and above which is in accordance with the officially mandated retirement age as embodied in the 2003 Elderly Persons Act (Knodel & Chayovan, 2008). The United Nations (2009) reported that the number of older persons has continuously increased to 7.6 million persons in 2009 and will double in 2050 to 19.3 million persons or equivalent to 11% and 26% of total populations, respectively (see Table 1). There is an eminent situation of Thailand facing an aging society since the number of older persons (aged 60 years and more) has exceeded more than 10% of its total population. Given the greater likelihood of serious health problems among older persons compared to the rest of the population, pressures on health facilities and services will increase enormously. In brief, these demographic developments will have important consequences for families, communities, and Thai society as a whole.
Thailand's steady increase in the number of older persons is expected to continue in the near future as the country experiences declining levels of fertility in the early 20th century and substantially improved longevity rates account (TGRI, 2008; Knodel & Chayovan, 2009). TGRI (2008) and Knodel & Chayovan (2009) further pointed that a major demographic determinant of population ageing in Thailand is the declining total fertility rate, from over 6 in the early 1960s to fewer than 2 since the late 2000. Moreover, life expectancy at birth has increased from 40 years in 1937 to 60 years in 1967, and increases to 71 years in 2007 (TGRI, 2008). Figures for life expectancy at 60 years, on the other hand, showed that after the age of 60, women will live approximately 2 years longer than men (Table 1). The continuous development in social, medical and health services have contributed to the decline in infant and child mortality as well as communicable diseases leading to a longer life expectancy in Thailand (TGRI, 2008; Knodel & Chayovan, 2009).
Table 1. Characteristics of the Elderly (aged 60 years and above) in the Philippines and Thailand
Percentage of total population
Share of persons 80 years and over
Old-age support ratio
Life expectancy at age 60 (2005-2010)
Source: United Nations, 2009
Challenges in Using Public Transportation among the Elderly
Mobility and accessibility to public transportation and are closely linked to independence, well being, and quality of life for the elderly. Accessibility is an important characteristic of the geography of space and denotes connectivity of a place with other places by means of a particular transportation system (El-Geneidy & Levinson, 2006; Iwarsson & Ståhl, 2003). It also entails a person-environment interaction in terms of functional capacity and design and demands of the physical environment which is supported by norms and standards (Iwarsson & Ståhl, 2003).
The need to enhance the accessibility to transportation of older adults without compromising safety has become an increasing concern in urban areas given physical problems increases with age (Titheridge et al., 2009). These characteristics may include slower reaction times, decreased vision and hearing, difficulty with physical movement such as loss of strength or impaired attention (Table 2). It is also noted that a significant number of people with some type of impairment or disability in relation to transportation are the elderly (Transportation Research Board, 2004). In the Philippines, senior citizens accounted for 34.93 percent of the total persons with disabilities (PWDs). Low vision was the common reported disability, followed by difficulty of hearing, partial blindness, partial deafness, and total blindness (DSWD, 2007; Ogena, 2006). These impairments often have serious implications in terms of access to opportunities in the city (Després & Lord, 2002; Lord & Luxembourg, 2006). Since they encounter difficulties in driving a motor vehicle, using public transit then becomes an indispensable component for them to achieve productivity and independence.
Table 2. Key Functional Abilities Affected by Aging in Relation to Transport Use
Specific Area of Functional Loss
Reduced visual acuity and sensitivity
Poorer visual pattern of perception and visualization of missing information
Less efficient visual search
Reduced area of visual attention
Less efficient working memory
Loss of limb strength, flexibility and sensitivity
Reduced reaction times
Source: US Transportation Research Board, 2004
In Bangkok and Manila, older adults tend to have low rates of use of other modes of transportation, such as public transit, walking and bicycling. These options are perceived to be less convenient, available, feasible, or safe and come with a different set of risks. Older adults experience higher rates of injury and/or crime as pedestrians and users of public transit. The elderly are more likely to be vulnerable than people of other age groups when using public transportation. In addition, using the private car may be favored because other transportation options may not exist in the area. Older adults tend to live in suburban communities that are low-density and car-dependent, often lacking sidewalks or public transportation systems. As people get into the urban fringes of Bangkok and Manila as well as in rural areas, there is no frequent transportation other than the private car and the waiting time associated with the use of public transport could be tedious for the elderly.
In terms of transportation design, existing roadways, public transportation vehicles, and pedestrian facilities were generally not designed with the elderly in mind. There is a need to have a better understanding of the characteristics of older people in incorporating improvements in transportation design. This "one size does not fit all" concept in transport service provision is an underlying theme that needs to be improved by transport planners and engineers, urban planners and policy makers in Southeast Asian cities. Bromley, Matthews, & Thomas (2007) identified two perspectives in understanding constraints people encounter to the physical environment. The medical or individual model looks at a person's mental or physical tragedies while the social model views disability as a result of society's failure to provide a more accessible and user-friendly facilities and structural design. This means that while an individual may have physical disabilities, such as being unable to walk; the same individual also faces disability in accessing a building or transportation facility without any provision of ramps, an elevator, among others.
Land use and transport planning influences accessibility through the design of the physical environment. In fact, incorporating universal accessibility (or universal design) has become an important consideration in building, landscape design, land use and transport planning (Audirac, 2008; Bromley, Matthews, & Thomas, 2007; Iwarsson & Ståhl, 2003; Project Universal Access, 2010). Universal design aims to simplify life for every one of all ages, sizes, and abilities by making the existing and future built environment and products usable by more people. AlterGo (1992) stressed that having accessible facilities intends to meet the needs of the elderly as well as individuals with reduced mobility by allowing a significant number of the population to travel independently. Improvements in the design of public transportation for the elderly or impaired would often benefit the general population. This would include larger road signs with more reflective lettering, improved edge delineation on the road, repaired sidewalks, and safe and available public transportation.
Policies and Initiatives on Accessible Public Transportation for the Elderly
Given the rate of aging population in Thailand and the Philippines, there is a need for national governments to prepare necessary systems to cope such challenging issue. Therefore, it is necessary to plan and set up good strategies to prepare its young adult populations to become prime movers for active aging in the future. The adoption of plans and policies towards improving the plight of the elderly was recently recognized in the two countries although there a lot of things to catch up in terms of implementing and achieving an enabling environment in the transportation sector.
A number of national policies and legislations focusing on the improvement of the elderly were enacted (Table 3) in response to commitments with international laws such as the Vienna Action Plan on Aging in 1982, Macau Declaration and Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and Pacific, the Madrid Action Plan on Ageing in 2002 and the UNESCAP Biwako Millennium Framework for Action also in 2002 (Jitapunkul, S & Wivatvanit, S., 2009; Prama Foundation, Inc., 2007; DSWD, 2007). It could be noted that emphasis is given more on improving their health and greater participation of the elderly in community development and livelihood activities. At the same time the governments of Thailand and the Philippines have tightened its policies on the provision of appropriate privileges and benefits, and appropriate care and protection services for the elderly.
The prominent features of the policies in the Philippines are the provision of privileges in the form of discount in the purchasing of medicines and basic commodities for the personal enjoyment of the senior citizen and establishments of the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) to be headed by a senior citizen (Sanchez, 2008). In Thailand, the Second National Plan for Older Persons (2001-2021) established a social protection system for the elderly. Among the aspects emphasized in the plan are on housing and enabling environment for the elderly which includes making facilities within buildings accessible and usable to disabled persons and older persons (Jitapunkul, S. & Wivatvanit, S., 2009). Mass transit operators in Bangkok and Manila have also implemented measures to accommodate mobility and accessibility needs of the elderly and disabled. These include the provision of elevators from the ground level to the terminal, providing fare discounts and designating priority seats.
Table 3. List of Policies and Legislations for the Elderly in Philippines and Thailand
Republic Act 344 (Accessibility Law of 1982)
Republic Act 7432 (Senior Citizens Act, 1991)
Republic Act 7876 (establishment of senior citizens center, 1994)
Republic Act 8425 (1997)
Republic Act 9257 (Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003)
Philippine Plan of Action for Senior Citizens 2006-2010
First Elderly Council in Thailand (1982)
First National Plan for Older Persons, 1982-2001 (1982)
New Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (two sections devoted to the elderly) (1997)
National Committee of Senior Citizens (1999)
Declaration of Thai Senior Citizens (1999)
Second National Plan for Older Persons, 2001-2021 (2002)
Elderly Act (2003)
Healthy Thailand (one component focused on promoting the health of the elderly) (2005)
Source: Jitapunkul, S & Wivatvanit, S., 2009; Prama Foundation, Inc., 2007; DSWD, 2007
Despite the legal framework on the inclusion of people with disabilities, implementation and compliance by the transportation sector is poor. Drivers and vehicle operators are not aware of the existence of these laws and negative attitudes of drivers towards people with disabilities remain a major problem which needs to be addressed. In the Philippines, for instance, past efforts for encouraging a meaningful dialogue between public transport actors and the disability sector were not fully materialized.
Both national governments are aware of the housing, transportation and built-in physical environment for the senior citizens however, they face challenges in providing socialized housing as well as designed vehicles suited for them. While basic requirements such as pedestrian lanes and elderly-friendly facilities like ramps are provided, these are constructed only in selected urban areas. It is good to note that some establishment, transportation vehicles such as trains have elderly-friendly and barrier-free constructions. One of the challenges in the implementation of the accessible and barrier-free public transportation is the lack of funding and expertise of government staff. Thus, accessibility policies to public services such as urban public transportation still lag behind in both countries.
The aging population is proceeding at a rapid pace in the Philippines and Thailand. The inexorable growth in numbers of older persons and their increasing share of population clearly pose important challenges for the government and society as a whole. On the positive side, the economic growth and improving standards of living that have substantially improved longevity rates of the people in general. Older people may face physical, economic and psychological barriers to travel; for some elderly this includes impairments in motor, sensory and cognitive abilities. To overcome these barriers and to allow older people to play a full part in society a fundamental, there is a need to re-think of transport policies in the two countries. The need to meet older people's mobility needs in a safe, accessible and sustainable way entails incorporating universal accessibility (or design) principles in the whole public transport environment. Safety and accessibility are two important considerations in designing and improving transportation for the elderly. While national policies are already in place in Thailand and the Philippines, the level of support given to improve land use and transportation planning for the elderly is still minimal. Providing safe, attractive, alternative public transportation options will benefit not only the elderly but the whole population in general. As a whole, setting an agenda by developing enabling environments for older people is both an economic and a social imperative.