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The Future Age:
Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
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The Future Age: Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now

The Future of Transportation

Episode Summary

In this week’s episode of The Future Age, we dig deep into the topic of transportation and older adults. Our host Zannat Reza, and Aislin O'Hara Kell, president of O'Hara Aging + Accessibility, discuss transportation as a social determinant of health, potential solutions for older adults, advancements and innovations in other countries, challenges faced by municipalities in Canada, and the importance of sustainable funding. Discover the potential of innovation and inclusive design by tuning in today.

Show Notes

Host Zannat Reza explores the crucial topic of transportation for older adults, and its impact on their well-being. Featuring special guest Aislin O'Hara Kell, they discuss the positive effects of age-friendly and accessible transportation, Canada's position in transportation solutions, and successful models from other countries, including volunteer driver programs and innovative funding approaches. The episode concludes by emphasizing the importance of sustainable funding, collaboration between government levels, innovative solutions, and inclusive design to shape the future of transportation.”

Episode Guest

Guest Image

Aislin O'Hara Kell

Innovation Advisor, Aging & Accessibility

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Zannat Reza: Imagine if you could no longer drive your car, how would you get from here to there? Some people consider transportation as a big factor in predicting how you thrive as you get older, so how can we better ensure that older adults have what they need to get around?

[00:00:17] I'm Zannat Reza. Welcome to The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in re-imagining what life could look like as we get older.

[00:00:25] If you enjoy this episode, please follow or subscribe on your favorite listening app.


[00:00:29] For this episode, we're exploring the importance of transportation for older adults. In other words, being able to get where they want and need to go. We also talk about innovative transportation solutions, including self-driving cars and how Canada compares to other countries.

[00:00:46] I spoke with Aislin O'Hara , president of O'Hara Aging and Accessibility, which helps communities make their programs and services inclusive for people of all ages and disabilities. I start off by asking Aislin about the benefits [00:01:00] of age-friendly, accessible transportation for older adults.

[00:01:05] Aislin O'Hara Kell: When we look at how transportation can improve the lives of older adults, we really have to turn our minds to viewing transportation as a social determinant of health. And in Canada, unfortunately, it's hard to answer that question because we don't have a lot of research to get participants to say, "Hey, how's your quality of life improved now that you have [00:01:30] transportation?" What we do know, is how negatively the quality of life of our older adults being impacted by not having transportation.

[00:01:42] So older people who don't have options to get around, they more easily suffer isolation and loneliness. And almost half of seniors, so we know that 42% of seniors who no longer [00:02:00] drive report having unmet transportation needs within the past six months. This data is from the University of Alberta and Dr. Bonnie Dobbs work around senior's transportation. And we know that 37% of older adults experience social isolation due to the inability to access a ride. And we do see this problem exacerbated in remote communities, [00:02:30] so it can go upwards of 58% are not able to get access to a ride in our reporting, a poor quality of life.

[00:02:41] And it really shows that there are different populations in Canada facing disproportionate and distinctive transportation challenges when it comes to older adults. We know in general that seniors age 65 and older, who no longer drive, [00:03:00] make 15% fewer trips to the doctor. So fewer trips to getting regular access to regular healthcare and preventative healthcare. They're making 59% fewer trips to shop & eat, and they're making 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family.

[00:03:21] Zannat Reza: What does age-friendly, accessible transportation look like? And maybe you can give us a couple of examples of some cities or communities that are doing a good job and maybe even examples from the work that you do.

[00:03:34] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Yeah, absolutely. It's a really good question, and when we look at age-friendly and accessible transportation, it doesn't look like just one single thing, right? It can be many different things. Aging itself is a spectrum and so too are the transportation needs of older adults, so there really is no one size fits all solution.[00:04:00]

[00:04:00] First thing that's probably the most important is flexibility within that solution, and then options to meet different needs at different times. So, for an example of an older adult who maybe is in their early 80s, they have mobility issues and facing a few more barriers with their health more recently, but otherwise they're independent. They still live in their home, say, that person might be able to use public transit. [00:04:30] The bus stop is located really close to their home, it's a 10 minute route, they don't have to do any transfers and the stop where they exit the bus is really close and they've been doing this for a while and they feel really comfortable on that trip.

[00:04:45] Now when they need to go to their art classes, say this person is, you know, really active as a painter in their retirement and they teach art classes, so to get to that class, um, it's not [00:05:00] on a main bus route, say for example, and they might need to actually take a taxi because they have a few art supplies with them. And juggling that with the bus, you know, they just need more of a door-to-door trip.

[00:05:14] Now, when they go grocery shopping, they actually need to access a community transportation program because they not only need that door to door, but they need that additional support where someone can help [00:05:30] carry their groceries from their car, into their home for them.

[00:05:34] So looking at that example, you know, we see that the spectrum is really wide in terms of transportation for older adults and that we need different supports, not only at different times throughout our life, but even for different types of trips and types of needs, right?

[00:05:54] Zannat Reza: I didn't realize that a person could have different transportation needs, and I wondered how is Canada doing when it comes to all that?

[00:06:01] Aislin O'Hara Kell: In transportation solutions for our older adults, we are behind our G20 partners, so the US, the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, they have all taken much further steps in transportation solutions. What we're seeing in Canada is what we call community transportation programs. These are nonprofits [00:06:30] usually, they are ran by volunteers. They are ran by very passionate individuals that do all kinds of solutions to try to make sure that adults in their community have access to transportation. But it's not enough, especially when we compare to what's in the US and in Europe and all the innovations we see there. We are behind.

[00:06:58] Zannat Reza: Can you give me some examples of some of those innovations? You're saying we lag way behind so many G20 countries, so what's happening elsewhere and what can we learn from them?

[00:07:10] Aislin O'Hara Kell: The US has really been able to nail the volunteer driver program aspect. They really have figured out a way to do this. The president of one of these transportation companies in the US once said to me, if people are willing to lay [00:07:30] down and donate their blood to strangers, surely they're willing to offer someone a ride to the grocery store. So we just have to invest in recruiting volunteers and letting people know that this is a really meaningful way that they can give back.

[00:07:46] Zannat Reza: One of the largest programs is ITN America, a nonprofit seniors transportation network in the US. Volunteer drivers are trained to help people get around safely, such as offering a steady arm, carrying packages and folding walkers.

[00:08:00] There's a cost to this program that revolves around something called ride credits, which acts like a point system, so members open accounts and rides are debited from that account. Each ride will cost you a certain amount of credits depending on the distance you're traveling. For example, if you put in $50, you could buy five ride credits.


[00:08:18] If your grocery store was close by, maybe you would only need one or two credits and so on. And when volunteers drive people around, they accumulate their own ride credits as payment, which can then be cashed in whenever [00:08:30] they might need their own ride, or they could donate those credits to others in need.

[00:08:34] Another way to rack up ride credits is by selling your car to the company so they can add it to their fleet. So you're a volunteer driver, you're shuttling people from here to there to everywhere, what about insurance?

[00:08:46] Aislin O'Hara Kell: That's where the US has really, uh, gone leaps and bounds ahead of us. They've created national volunteer driver insurance policies that allow people if they're using [00:09:00] their own vehicle, or if they're using a vehicle provided by the organization, to be fully protected. And that becomes a huge barrier in Canada. Particularly in BC, the province of British Columbia, there is a lot of issues with volunteer driver insurance and even, there are several municipalities that are ready to start their own volunteer driver program and set up community [00:09:30] transportation, and that insurance piece is a huge barrier for them.

[00:09:34] The biggest barriers that municipalities across Canada face is due to funding. So a lot of them can get age-friendly grants from the government. They'll get $25,000, or they get a community transportation grant that could be upto a $100,000 in certain provinces.

[00:09:54] So they get these grants, and now these communities that don't have any expertise on how to successfully establish transportation programs, they do their best, and they do a great job. And then what ends up happening, is the grant runs out, and there's no sustainability there, the priority in those grants have shifted.

[00:10:15] Sometimes what I see a lot of times in my professional work, is a municipality will have a great program that's funded with a grant, and it provides access to transportation for, say, 1200 [00:10:30] seniors that live in a specific community. Well, then the grant changes the requirements, and they have to shift their service in order to meet the grant requirement, and now all of a sudden they can only provide medical trips.

[00:10:46] Zannat Reza: Sustainable funding comes up on a multitude of different topics, and transportation is just one of them. How do we help get this sustainable funding?

[00:10:56] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Government has a role to play when it comes to funding. Federal government, provincial governments and municipal governments all need to come to the table.

[00:11:06] What I find the most interesting when I look at sustainable funding for this problem, is all these other countries are doing differently. They're not relying solely on the government to fund it. They're coming up with meaningful philanthropic donations. So, in some of my work, I've, you know, had the opportunity to [00:11:30] work with different trusts, and many times people don't think of transportation as being the biggest need, or as being as much of a meaningful donation as it really is. You have to really show people what one ride can give to someone.

[00:11:48] So, many organizations are looking for ways to set up their corporate social responsibility programs, and they're looking for unique ways to do that, to [00:12:00] stand out from other organizations. We need to have that microphone to tell them, hey, this is an option for you. It's happening elsewhere in the world, and it's not happening in Canada.

[00:12:14] Zannat Reza: Give me some examples of corporations in other countries who've stepped up to the plate and are helping out with age-friendly, accessible transportation.

[00:12:24] Aislin O'Hara Kell: In the US uh, Toyota is one of the biggest funders of senior's transportation. Their corporate social responsibility mandate, or one of them, is Mobility for All, and they are a huge player that comes to the table. They have partnered with the AARP's Ride@50+ Program and they have delivered, uh, millions of rides and have funded in millions of dollars and other ways to help establish different, not just trips, but Toyota [00:13:00] also sponsors the infrastructure behind it.

[00:13:03] Zannat Reza: The Ride@50+ program is simplifying access to transportation by creating a one-stop shop to access private and public transportation. It's made up of volunteer drivers, public transit, specialty transportation providers, and taxis. It provides a single point of access to review, compare, and book local transportation options. From the writer's perspective, all available transportation options are listed on an app and web platform created by [00:13:30] Phoenix Mobility Rising. There's also a support center for those who would prefer to book their service over the phone.

[00:13:36] Aislin O'Hara Kell: In the Netherlands, they are able to get small, local businesses to invest even just small donations in their transportation programs. They were able to set up over 90 different community transportation buses throughout all the different areas of the Netherlands [00:14:00] by looking at properly and sustainable funding. And part of that was finding local businesses and saying, "Hey, this grocery store, do you want to donate $500 a month to our program? We are going to be bringing seniors to this store every Tuesday and Thursday to do their grocery shopping."

[00:14:19] So it became more of a win-win. People are willing to do it, we just need to rally, and develop really strong strategies, really strong business plans and business cases to help these corporations really easily sign the dotted line and say, yes, I want to provide rides to 500,000 Canadians this year.

[00:14:43] Zannat Reza: But this isn't as easy as it seems. A big challenge is sourcing vehicles that are accessible.


[00:14:49] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Finding accessible vehicles in Canada that are wheelchair accessible, that a person with a wheelchair can come on board in their wheelchair using a ramp, and have [00:15:00] proper securements, are really challenging to find. Oftentimes they have to be retrofit, so they'll take a regular van and have to retrofit it, and there are only a handful of companies that do this. There's a few in Ontario. I know that Alberta has to send all of their taxis to Ontario, that have to be retrofitted for accessibility needs, and then sent back to their [00:15:30] province to provide taxi services.

[00:15:32] The second challenge is around drivers and driver training. So when someone is providing this accessible ride, they might need to have a certain higher level of training, right, to be able to properly secure, and also to interact with people with disabilities in an appropriate way.

[00:15:51] Zannat Reza: A third challenge is the cost of offering rides to customers who need more help. These rides tend to take longer, meaning drivers have fewer rides per hour [00:16:00] and make less money. But obviously, companies who offer these kind of ride services need to be able to give proper financial incentives to the drivers, without having the customer eat the cost.

[00:16:10] In some American cities such as New York, companies have been forced to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act. This led Uber to offer their WAV program. WAV stands for wheelchair accessible vehicle, which allows those with wheelchairs and scooters to have access to vehicles that have ramps, so they can stay seated and wheel ride in.

[00:16:28] In addition to its fleet of wheelchair accessible vehicles, plus training for its drivers, the program rewards WAV drivers to make those trips by offering a lower service fee. In other words, drivers keep more of the profit from each trip, and yet another challenge is technology.

[00:16:45] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Say you have all the funding in the world to purchase all these vehicles, and you're even going to hire drivers, and you're going to pay them, and you've opened up your doors, and now you have 150 people that want to book [00:17:00] rides with you this week. While you're not going to take pen to paper to try to route those rides, although many community transportation programs in Canada do schedule that way, and it's amazing, you know, that they're able to do that successfully, but it's not the most efficient way. So looking at leveraging different technologies, and where some other countries have gotten ahead of us is they've been able to get huge donations of GIS [00:17:30] data, so the actual geographical information system mapping.

[00:17:35] So they're able to get these routes, whether it's Google, that Google Maps is donating it, or Salesforce, or you know, these different huge organizations that have this GIS data. If they're able to donate some of that, which they have in other countries, if we were able to get something similar, that could create one very user-friendly platform that you don't [00:18:00] need to have a lot of tech experience. You can be someone that works at a library and you're in a small community and you want to start up a transportation system. It shouldn't take a computer science degree to be able to establish that technology. That's the part that we need to figure out, and find a way that community transportation programs across Canada can do something like that.

[00:18:26] Zannat Reza: Clearly there are many barriers and challenges to age-friendly transportation and the kinks are still being ironed out. I also asked Aislin her opinion on the accessibility of public transportation systems.

[00:18:38] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Some elements of public transit that are becoming much more age-friendly are, first of all, accessible buses that are all low floor. They have the ability to kneel so that they can lower and make it really, um, easy for someone with a walker or wheelchair to board the vehicle.

[00:18:59] We start to [00:19:00] see something really take hold in public transportation called micro mobility. And what that is looking almost at a feeder system. So if we have everyone that's commuting to a train, to take a train into the city downtown. Half of those people would be able to take a public transit bus to the train station, but their barrier is getting from their home to the bus stop, because it's not clear [00:19:30] when it's snowing, or it's on the other side of the road and they don't feel safe crossing.

[00:19:35] So these micro mobility solutions will actually have smaller public transit vehicles, and they go and pick people up at their home, bring them to the bus stop, and allow them to take that bus to their destination. So it's kind of a home to hub system if you will, but that type of micro mobility will really help make improvements for [00:20:00] seniors. Many people say, "If I could just get to the bus stop, I could take the bus."

[00:20:05] Zannat Reza: And does that exist? Are there micro mobility services in Canada?

[00:20:10] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Yes, this is happening all across Canada. We've seen it really pick up in the last three years in Ontario for sure. We're also starting to see it pick up in smaller communities, in smaller transportation systems up north. In Northern Ontario, they're [00:20:30] finding that it turns out, it's actually more cost effective for them to do this micro mobility solution, than to run a big, you know, 50 foot bus up and down their main core. So, it's implementing something called Transit on Demand, where they're allowing all people, regardless of age or disability, to book public transit trips in this more micro mobility style.

[00:20:58] Zannat Reza: The only catch with public transportation is that of course it's not available everywhere. For example, in Ontario, only 96 of the 444 municipalities have public transportation systems, but there is potential to create something fantastic.

[00:21:13] Just look at London, England, a city Aislin names as having a strong commitment to accessible, age-friendly and affordable public transit. Their vehicles are designed with older adults in mind in details like the height of the steps on buses, having space for wheelchairs, and priority seating. Driver [00:21:30] training is also an important part of the initiative.

[00:21:32] So public transportation is one part of the mobility puzzle, and if we're thinking about the future of transportation, where do self-driving cars fit in?

[00:21:41] Aislin O'Hara Kell: I know that Australia was one of the first countries to really innovate around using autonomous vehicles to support older adults. There were several pilots in as early as 2017 - 2018, where they were using autonomous vehicles to [00:22:00] um, allow for older adults to navigate around within their retirement community. And it was a fairly big- sized community with restaurants and community centers, and they had this shuttle, it allowed people to kind of hop on, hop off. Things have been slowed down a little bit in terms of getting the autonomous vehicle.

[00:22:21] I don't know if it's policies in place or approvals or proper beta testing, but Canada, we move slower, right? We're not going to be the first country to jump right onto things like that. It's just generally not the climate here. I do want to always mention in the conversation with autonomous vehicles and older adults, is that it will never solve the need for everyone. It will become one tool in that box where you need multiple different options. The importance of a physical person as a driver, or a physical person being in the vehicle, they don't have to be driving, but being in the [00:23:00] vehicle with the older adult, is so important. So not only to be able to offer assistance for that portion where you go from the door to the vehicle, drivers in community transportation programs, and even public transit, sometimes end up being the point of triage for an older adult when other issues start to come into play.

[00:23:23] So they're, you know, picking up Sandra Smith at her house every Wednesday, and they start to [00:23:30] notice that Sandra isn't remembering where she's going, or is starting to be confused when they bring her home. And they're able to report that to emergency contacts, to family members. Certain communities even have it set up where they're able to disperse, um, community paramedic resources when these things start to come into play.

[00:23:52] There was a really interesting research study done that for some seniors that are living in social isolation, the [00:24:00] only conversations they had were with their drivers in their community transportation programs, and many of them tried to list their drivers as emergency contacts on dental forms or rental applications.

[00:24:16] And so we can't forget that value of human interaction in a world that is so technology heavy.

[00:24:24] Zannat Reza: Aislin says that Australia's population spread and geography is most similar to Canada's, but they're way ahead of the [00:24:30] game when it comes to sourcing money through philanthropy. For example, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal allows individuals and organizations to donate money towards sustainable transportation solutions, and this is in addition to their government funding.

[00:24:44] In 2022, they raised 18.1 million to bolster their government grant of 3.3 million, the median donation, $50. That's the power of collective impact.

[00:24:56] Aislin O'Hara Kell: Communities are siloed trying to solve [00:25:00] problems that are very similar in nature to each other. And they're siloed, trying to solve it on their own. We really need to have national conversations. We need to have everyone at the table so that a small rural community in BC, can talk to a very similar community out in Nova Scotia, and solve the same problems together. We have an amazing country, we have an amazing [00:25:30] helping mentality that I just think we need to tap into this on a larger scale by addressing, you know, national strategies. And I think we can make it happen through partnerships.

[00:25:42] Zannat Reza: Finish this sentence in 10 words or less. The future of aging should be....

[00:25:49] Aislin O'Hara Kell: I feel like the future of aging should be designed with older adults at the table. So the whole, nothing about us without us philosophy. Give them a voice. They're really smart. They have so much experience.

[00:26:04] Zannat Reza: Let's time travel to when you, you're a hundred years old, Aislin, what does your ideal life look like?

[00:26:11] Aislin O'Hara Kell: So for me, my ideal life at a hundred years old would really be about the people and the relationships that I have. [00:26:30] So I would really hope to still be sitting, uh, happily married to my husband. I guess that would be, probably 66 years of marriage at that point, and I would hope to be surrounded by children and grandchildren, and to be, most importantly, still feeling like I'm of value to my community. So being able to contribute and live a healthy and active lifestyle. I would love to still do my two [00:27:00] passions of yoga and golf. And so for me, it really comes down to the people and the relationships. That's what I hope to be surrounded by lots of people.

[00:27:02] Zannat Reza: That sounds like a lovely life. Thanks for dropping by Aislin.

[00:27:06] Thanks for joining us for this episode. To learn more and for transcripts go to thefuture Listen to new episodes by following us wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're liking our podcast, leave a review on Apple or Spotify and be sure to share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.

[00:27:24] The Future Age is brought to you by SE Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose purpose is to bring hope and happiness to the lives of Canadians. It's produced by the Future of Aging Team and Podium Podcast Company. For more information, visit