Today’s seniors have spent most of their adult lives driving cars. Trains, it follows, are definitely not the first means of transport that this generation will think of: trains are often the option by default, when driving becomes too tiring and distances too long. Trains, at this moment of life, can bring back mobility and freedom to move. However, not surprisingly, fewer seniors than we think actually enjoy that freedom. This is often due to physical constraints, psychological misgivings but also to the very nature of the infrastructure.
“Senior” is a vague term and points in different directions. No two seniors are alike: some wander around the world while others live within a much smaller radius, and age is not necessarily a variable in the equation. But for all of them, mobility is a sign of vitality, and one among other ways of fending off old age. Moving around and traveling are one way of feeling alive – and in many cases, one of the only ways of getting closer to their nearest and dearest, other people, or in a nutshell, belong in society. And yet public transport, stations and trains are very rarely designed around seniors’ abilities, wants or needs. They therefore hinder their mobility.
Méthos teams spent over six months working on senior mobility for SNCF (French Rail). An ethnography, which spanned 3 French regions (Brittany, Rhône Alpes and Greater Paris), within a 360° innovative drive aimed at identifying the levers, new solutions or service experiences that would enhance or promote senior-citizen mobility.
We travelled side by side with seniors in the countryside around Lyons and suburbs around Paris, took trains in small stations in Brittany and connections in large hubs, took regional, commuter and long-distance high-speed trains. The good news is that we were not the only ones! Other passengers realise that seniors are struggling and very often offer to help. Seniors deliberately rely on that intergenerational solidarity, and sometimes even display sharp strategic savvy: “Things got a whole lot better when I stopped dying my hair,” a smiling elderly lady parading her attractive white hair admitted to us. Indeed, seniors map out strategies, before, during and after their trips, in public transport, in stations or on trains, to get to their destination with the fewest possible hitches. Some of those strategies work and others may not: it depends on the route, stations and the stage in their journey. This study sheds light on these strategies, its findings are now included in an in-depth knowledge base that SNCF can tap into in order to enhance or facilitate senior mobility. And, here at Méthos, we will never forget the great time we had criss-crossing France with our seniors.