Recent inward migration to Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty is unlikely to change the expected ageing demographic profile of the sub region, with the number of over 65s expected to reach almost one-third of the population and the numbers of over 85s to significantly increase.

And that has major implications for transport infrastructure, says Carole Gordon, national convener of SUPA-NZ, a lobby group for the elderly.

"We need to deepen the thinking about the demographic transformation that is not just occurring, but has occurred," she said. "We've got to stop talking about demographic change, but be planning for that next phase."

More than one-third of Tauranga City's population will be aged 65-plus by 2033, up from 19.5 per cent in 2013, according to a SmartGrowth demographic review published in 2014.

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By 2063 that proportion is projected to reach around 42.7 per cent. The contribution to growth of the 85-plus years is significant, with numbers increasing by 958 between 2013 and 2033, and 7201 between 2034 and 2063, accounting for 21 per cent of growth in the latter period.

In the Western Bay of Plenty projected trends are similar, with almost one-third of the Western Bay of Plenty's population expected to be aged 65-plus in 2033, up from 19.5 per cent in 2013. By 2063 that proportion is projected to reach 41.1 per cent, while numbers of those aged 85-plus will again be significant, increasing by 651 between 2013 and 2033, and 1564 between 2034 and 2063, accounting for almost half of all growth in the latter period.

Tauranga City Council has adopted an Age-Friendly Strategy 2013-2016, signalling its intent to become the first city in New Zealand to be age-friendly in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines. But Ms Gordon said she believed that despite local authorities' stated commitment to being age-friendly, it was not yet "in an action phase".

In particular, she said, more needed to be done to reduce long-term traffic congestion by building communities with increased local amenities, which would reduce the need for elderly people to make unnecessary trips.

"We need to move past saying this demographic change is happening, to recognising that we have to act with urgency on new outcomes," she said.

However, Tauranga City Council officials and others involved say that the needs of the elderly are high in their transportation planning priorities. Meanwhile, some working with elderly issues have pointed to the possibilities of new technology such as driverless cars in helping older people get around safely. (see story below)

A public transportation review is currently under way, led by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in partnership with TCC and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

TCC senior transport adviser Martin Parkes said a draft of the review had been prepared and was being worked on, and it would incorporate needs of the elderly. It has not yet gone to public consultation.

"It's important for us from a transport perspective to ensure that the aged population are still mobile and connected with the wider community," said Mr Parkes.

"We try and ensure that we're catering for all ages and all modes. We know when people have to give up their driving licences there's a danger they become isolated from the wider community."

A lot of older people had turned to mobility scooters as their form of transport, he said and use had increased significantly.

"We're certainly as a city gearing up for continual growth in the older age bracket," he said. "There is no doubt about it. A lot of our transport planning is around how those people will be able to travel around the city and making sure we are planning so people don't feel isolated and disconnected."

But there was always more that could be done, he said. "Particularly with the growth areas we are constructing now, we are putting a huge amount of effort up front in the planning of those things. But there are still a lot of older parts of the city where this planning and thinking wasn't around and we're playing catchup in those areas."

He cited suburbs such as Otumoetai, Matua and the central city which had issues around access and mobility. He also noted the problems caused for elderly people in getting around Greerton where Cameron Rd - with around 17,000 vehicles a day - split the suburb.

"That creates no end of issues for pedestrians, cycles and mobility scooter users and we're working on a plan to improve that."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council senior transport planner Joe Metcalfe said there was probably more that could be done to support ageing in place.

"One of the big concerns is around ageing in place, so people can age in their homes and have facilities and everything around them in a localised area, without large barriers in their way, or them having to cross a four lane highway," he said.

Niclas Johansson, NZTA's Tauranga manager, said Tauranga's elderly needs came within the agency's overall guidelines on accessibility.

"Our national urban design guide gives us guidance on how we do take that into consideration," he said.

NZTA looked to the SmartGrowth process, and a number of interest groups that influenced the direction of SmartGrowth, including the Population Ageing Technical Advisory Group (PATAG), for Tauranga-specific guidance, he said. (see story below)

"It's a matter of providing access across all age groups," said Mr Johansson, noting the increased emphasis on safe walkways and cycleways in transportation planning.

"We take older users into consideration for crossing points," he said. "For example there might be median islands where you can stand safely before you cross over. Ageing demographics do come into our planning. But it's not just the ageing, it's kids on bikes, it's all of our customers."

Angela Scott, a member of Age Concern's Tauranga board, said that the organisation did not claim to be aware of all the planning that was under way concerning transport needs for the elderly.

"But we are very concerned about how older people are going to live well as they get older," she said.

In fact, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board had been doing a lot of forward planning and putting a lot more money into home support services, she said.

"We are caring for people in their homes better and they're not having to go into residential care too early."

"We would certainly at Age Concern approve of people staying at home as long as they have the support around them to do so. But the housing planning is far more difficult. There are plenty of retirement villages and that's fine, but if you don't wish to go into villages, the choices are very thin."

The council was very aware of the access problem and the need for older people to get out and access services, she said.

"You can't push people out from the centre, you've got to keep people engaged in their communities."

[Sidebar]

New driverless car technology could be the solution for older people who can no longer drive, say two women who work on elderly issues.

Whilst acknowledging there would be issues around affordability and the practical reality of the technology, Adrienne Von Tunzelman, a Tauranga-based national board member of Age Concern, said driverless cars would solve the problem of maintaining independence for the elderly.

"It's a question of affordability," she said. "The other key will be having the ability to use the technology that allows you to dial up a self-driving car, and instruct it to find you a parking place, wait for you and bring you home again."

She said much of the recent commentary on driverless cars had focused around them being used as an alternative to normal city traffic, and for active age cohorts.

"But I think it's a solution for transport barriers for older people," she said. While there would be a lot of issues to work through, as a form of transport for the elderly, it could be ideal, she said.

"The issues around being able to remain driving are not just the physical issues of being able to drive and pass the test and see and hear, but being able to manipulate the vehicle, finding a park and navigating around the city," she said.

Angela Scott, a board member of Age Concern Tauranga, agreed, saying driverless cars could keep older people mobile for very much longer.

"If we had a system like Uber, they could just call up a driverless car, got for a trip, leave it and allow it go somewhere else [for another user]," she said.

"I think in the future that driverless cars could be a real boon to older people."

[Sidebar]

A key group for getting community input on elderly needs is the Population Ageing Technical Advisory Group (PATAG), a collaboration between the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOP DHB) and SmartGrowth.

Chairwoman Anne Pankhurst says PATAG had put transportation very high on the list of considerations in its July position paper on elderly needs.

"That's all forms of transportation, not just hard infrastructure," she said. "Our position papers have a strong soft infrastructure approach, with that social planning around people and not just around infrastructure."

A lot of thought was going into what transportation would look like for an ageing population, she said.

"How do you plan for a future where people not only may not be able to drive, but may not be that comfortable jumping on and off a bus," she said.

"But what we would say is an ageing population isn't all about old people - it is about people who are ageing, which we are all doing from birth. Our approach is that if transportation works for a 5-year-old, it will work for an 80-year-old.

"This is a holistic issue - it's not just about older people. We care hugely about everyone and at all stages in their lives. If transportation is easy to access, easy to get around in, it solves a lot of problems."