UOW researchers plan better public transport service.

UOW researchers have been studying the public transport habits of older Australians living in Wollongong.

Dr Bobby Du’s ‘Mind the Age Gap’ research team at the SMART Infrastructure Facility launched their study in July 2018.  They found that while seniors in Wollongong were more likely to travel on the bus than adults under 60, more school students took the bus than seniors.

“When people are getting older many of them are still driving, despite having bad physical and mental issues, or they ask their family members to drive them to the train station,” Dr Du said.

“Our question is, ‘Why don’t they just take public transport?’”

The answer, overwhelmingly, is there are no bus stops in close proximity to some suburban, Illawarra homes. And taxis are out of the question for many seniors who are living on shoestring budgets.

“At worst, people are driving 10 or 15 minutes to their nearest bus stop or train station,” Dr Du said.

In their next phase of research, Dr Du’s team will brainstorm solutions with participating seniors, aged community services and transport sectors. They hope to identify highly-frequented destinations for seniors in Wollongong such as the hospital, train stations and shops.

“We could provide flexible shuttle service, so we can pick them up and drop them to the nearest train station or bus stop, or to their destinations as directly as a taxi service but at a much lower price,” he said.

Meanwhile, Transport for NSW has been trialling an on-demand bus for public transport users in Wollongong.

“That is quite close to what we expect to do at the next stage as we design tailored and responsive services for seniors,” he said.

So far, Dr Du’s research team has analysed public transport data and obtained information in interviews with Wollongong-based seniors who use public transport. The study focused on bus usage in Wollongong, and train usage of passengers who boarded between Kiama and Thirroul stations and alighted at Sydney, and who returned from Sydney to the Illawarra. The bus study did not take into account the free bus route in Wollongong.

There were some pleasing findings about the South Coast train service.

“Almost all of the seniors interviewed mentioned during peak hours, people would give their seats to them, and the staff on platform were always glad to answer their enquiries,” Dr Du said.

“But service frequency and crowding are still issues for public transport service providers. On a crowded train, you can’t easily identify a gap between the platform and the train. This is a major safety risk.”

The research series aims to address UOW’s Global Challenges Living Well, Longer challenge of improving the lives of older Australians and people living with mental illness. They will present their research at the International Conference on Transport and Health to be held in Melbourne in November.