Bay of Plenty leaders have been warned not to leave older people behind in their decision-making about the region's transport needs today.
In a presentation to the Regional Transport Committee this morning, gerontologist Carole Gordon said older people were already being abandoned by the city's recent bus route changes.
Gordon said she knew of a group of 500 elders living in Pyes Pa who desperately wanted to catch the bus but couldn't because where they lived was not on the bus route.
"It's vital these people are considered, and all people are considered, in major transportation projects that we undertake."
Gordon said the number of people aged 75 years and older in the Bay of Plenty was expected to balloon 229 per cent in the 20 years from 2016, at 7 per cent a year.
In the Western Bay of Plenty alone, the growth was forecast to be 136 per cent, or 4.4 per cent a year.
Gordon asked councillors and mayors at the meeting to consider funding a smaller transport service, or shuttle, to operate community routes from highly populated areas of elders to the local medical centres and supermarkets.
She said transport in the Bay of Plenty was in the process of transformation "whether we like it or not".
"The words modal shift are heard frequently. We need to reduce dependency on cars and older people recognise their transport needs."
Gordon said there was an opportunity through UFTI to include services catering for elders while meeting the Government's desires for alternative transport options. The forecast boom in the region's ageing population was another reason this was so important to consider, she said.
UFTI stands for Urban Form Transport Initiative and is made up of local government leaders partnered with the NZ Transport Agency focusing on future transport projects in the Western Bay.
Gordon said older people were the largest users of public transport "and would be grateful for public transport services that met their needs".
She said the issue was not isolated to the Western Bay of Plenty.
"The Lakes area, Rotorua, this is a major issue for them as well, to look after the needs of other people as well."
Whakatāne councillor Andrew Iles agreed, saying access to public transport among the town's older people was "a very, very real problem".
Tauranga councillor, and acting chairman of the city's transport committee, Larry Baldock said he had received feedback from older people in Pyes Pa keen for such a service.
"There is huge support in older people saying 'what we want is a bus or a small bus that will do a circuit to the Lakes shopping centre and back'."
Bay of Plenty road policing Inspector Brent Crowe said police supported Gordon's message.
"Anything that makes transportation more efficient and easier for the aged is a good thing. Over the past 18 months, there has been an unfortunate, emerging trend of elderly people involved in death and serious injury crashes.
"With the projected ageing population, we don't want that trend to continue."
The committee agreed to take on Gordon's suggestion when next considering public transport matters.