Older people's experiences of everyday travel in the urban environment: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies in the United Kingdom

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Compared to younger age groups, older people spend more time in their locality and rely more heavily on its pedestrian and public transport infrastructure. Qualitative studies provide unique insight into people's experiences. We conducted a qualitative evidence synthesis of United Kingdom-based studies of older people's experiences of travelling in the urban environment. We searched health, social science, age-related and transport-related databases from 1998 to 2017. Fourteen papers (from 12 studies) were included in a thematic synthesis, a three-staged process that moves iteratively between codes, descriptive themes and cross-cutting analytical themes. Emerging themes were discussed with policy advisers. Four overarching themes were identified. The first and second theme pointed to the importance of 'getting out' and of being independent travellers. The third and fourth themes highlighted how local environments and travel systems enabled (or prevented) older people from realising these valued dimensions of travel. The loss of local amenities and micro-environmental features, such as pavement quality, personal safety and aesthetic appearance, were recurrent concerns. Free modes of travel like walking and bus travel were highly valued, including the social engagement they facilitated. Our review suggests that, while its extrinsic value (reaching destinations) matters, the intrinsic value of travel matters too. The process of travel is experienced and enjoyed for its own sake, with older people describing its contribution to their wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)842-868
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number4
Early online date25 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

© Cambridge University Press 2018.


  • bus travel
  • healthy ageing
  • mobility
  • place
  • social inequalities
  • wellbeing

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