Guest blog from Bethan Shoemark-Spear, an award winner of the THINK Transport Issues in the Community Award
As a charity Age Connect Morgannwg (ACM) pride ourselves on listening to older people and ensuring the services we provide are wanted and meeting their needs. We are a charity for older people living in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil areas of Wales. Since 1977, we’ve been working to get older people the help they want, when they want it. We offer a wide range of information, advice and services to help older people stay living independently for as long as possible.
People clearly need a reliable and long-term transport service in our area. However, we need to find out if this needs to include social interactions and more support. We suspect this is the case otherwise people would book taxis. We suspect people need drivers trained in supporting those with dementia; those with disability; those experiencing loneliness and isolation. But suspecting something isn’t enough. We need to develop a deeper understanding, from older people, the reasons they need extra support with transport.
We know from those we support that they need help with transport for a multitude of reasons.
- We have taken more than 800 people to their covid vaccination;
- 10% of our community referrals ask us to assist them with their shopping and
- we are asked for last minute transport assistance where an ambulance has failed to turn up to take someone to their hospital appointment.
We have been able to provide this support within existing funding envelopes, but this money is time-bound, and people need a long-term service that they can rely on.
In the last 5 years Age Connects Morgannwg has identified it has supported 1,609 people with transport support. We actually suspect this number is a lot higher, but unfortunately, we haven’t correctly logged this information on our systems. Our administration teams have told us they received at least one request per day for transport help that we do not have the funding nor resources to support.
For those people that we can support, we know what they need support with transport to a medical appointment, or to take them shopping. However, we want to know more about the ‘why’. Do people ask us for help because of barriers to public transport; are people lonely; do they trust ACM more than other transport providers?
As the key part of our THINK funded project, we carried out a survey which people could complete online or in person to try and answer the questions we set ourselves. 75 people completed the survey. Of those,
- 47% had their own transport;
- 79% lived on a bus route; and
- 48% regularly used public transport.
Of those who didn’t use public transport, the most common reason was they needed assistance to travel. People told us that they had been refused a taxi because they had a guide dog with them as well as being refused a taxi as they could not accommodate their wheelchair. 57% of respondents were aged between 60 and 79 years of age, 72% identified as women and 28% identified as men.
We did not limit the distribution of the survey to our area of benefit – the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Region (RCT, Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil) – as although this is the area we are primarily interested in learning more about, we decided we could use any wider findings to highlight any specific regional differences. However, 97% of respondents lived in our area.
Key themes from the survey
People have trouble getting out and about or getting to medical appointments due to transport accessibility, times and cost.
For those who told us they don’t use public transport regularly, they told us this was because:
- they needed assistance to travel;
- bus/train stops were too far away from their home;
- times weren’t convenient, and
- the service was too unreliable.
In these instances, people told us they relied on a lift from friends or family members, but they often felt guilty for asking or a burden, and they did not like to feel this way.
People want to get out, and sometimes want to use public transport more than they do, but they experience barriers to be able to achieve this.
Respondents told us very loudly that getting out and about is important to them – not just to get to a medical appointment, but to get out of the house and connect with their communities. We asked them “What benefits does it bring to your life to use the transport in this way [a transport service provided by Age Connects Morgannwg using staff trained in supporting older people]?”.
In a multiple-choice option for answers:
- 55% answered ‘To get me out of the house’;
- 47% answered ‘To lift my spirits’;
- 47% answered ‘To socialise’ and
- 43% answered ‘To feel part of a community.
Barriers to public transport include times (either not meeting need or changing due to delays) and lack of accessible provision for those with mobility issues or a disability.
People told us that public transport doesn’t often meet their needs due to a variety of reasons, but often these centred on public transport, and private transport such as taxis, not meeting the needs of people with mobility issues or disability.
- For some people they struggle to stand outside in the cold waiting for a bus;
- some people cannot walk up a hill with shopping from the train/bus stop;
- we heard stories of taxi’s refusing to take assistance dogs;
- people told us that often they experience difficulty with wheelchair access;
- we were told that often people can’t rely on public transport to get to appointments as so frequently they are delayed or buses and trains don’t turn up at all – sadly this can be the same with hospital provided transport.
Sometimes people would like and need a trained volunteer or support worker to join them on their outing, evidencing that transport often isn’t the only thing that person needs support with
45 people told us they would be happy to pay for a transport service but importantly one with ACM trained staff or volunteers, and on average they said they would be happy to spend £9 an hour for this service.
We also met with Rail Future Wales who highlighted with the upcoming South Wales Metro that some of the trains on the valleys train lines will be swapped to trams in the upcoming future. We believe this will cause barriers for lots of people, including older people, as trams do not have toilets on board.
We hope this project will act as a steppingstone for us to set-up a transport service based on genuine need, and importantly one that meets the needs of older people too. The responses have shown us that what people can afford to pay isn’t enough to fund our costs as a charity. We will however try to bridge that gap by searching for relevant funding, including seed funding, to see if we can launch a service that meets need. We will also share the findings with elected officials and decision makers, as well as public transport providers in our area of benefit.
Download the full report
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