Can rural older drivers meet their needs without a car? Stated adaptation responses from a GPS travel diary survey

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Rural seniors are highly dependent on their automobile to meet their trip making needs, yet the effects of aging can make access to the vehicle difficult or impossible over time. The anticipated growth in the older person population, in concert with limited travel data available to support rural transportation planning in Canada suggests a disconnect between what rural older people may require for transportation and the availability of formal alternatives. Many will seek informal alternatives to driving, such as depending on friends and family, to meet their travel needs, but the degree is not well understood in the context of their actual vehicle usage and stated ability to adapt. This paper draws from a Global Positioning System (GPS)-based multi-day travel diary survey of a convenience sample of 60 rural older drivers (29 men, 31 women, average age of 69.6 years) from New Brunswick, Canada. Participants would rely on “friends and family” for 52% of all trips they undertook as driver in the survey, “walk or bike” for 14% of trips, and “not take the trip” in 34% of trips if they did not have access to a vehicle. “Medical trips”, “Shopping” and “Personal Errands” were the least discretionary of all trip types, yet the most difficult for participants to find alternate arrangements. Most participants (70%) believed a solution is needed in rural areas that does not involve depending on friends and family. These findings suggest the need for transportation policies that encourage the development and sustainability of rural alternatives.