Getting about – how older people travel

An important factor in older people’s lives is how they get about. We hear about the importance of social interaction, stimulation, participation and contribution for our health and wellbeing, but much of this depends on how easily we can get out of our homes to be with other people. The New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy includes the goal of Affordable and Accessible Transport for Older People, linked to the overall aim of improving the opportunities for older people to participate in the community in the ways that they choose.

In the mid-2000s, when the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing (NZiRA) was flourishing, it produced reports on transport and older people, which concluded that private transport plays a central role in the lives of older people in New Zealand. Given this, if they lose access to a private car their lifestyle and wellbeing may be threatened. I will look at this in another blog, but first, I want to update information on how older people travel.

How much people travel in their daily lives is influenced by their age and stage in life, says How New Zealanders Travel[1], a regular survey report published by the Ministry of Transport. The most travelled group is people aged 25 to 64 – well over 12,500 km a year on average, almost all by private car. Travel distance decreases to just over 10,000 km per year for the 65-74 age group and to about 5,000 km per year for people 75-plus. But even in this age group private transport is dominant (as shown in the table below).

Percentage of total travelling time by mode of travel

Age Group



Mode of travel



Car – driver*



Car – passenger






Public transport






*car includes cars, vans, utes and SUVs

Walking and using public transport are a little more important in the oldest age group. Along with children of school age, older people apparently walk the most. There are some interesting differences between men and women in how much time they spend walking. In the 65-74 age group women walk, on average, for 54 minutes per week and men for 39 minutes. Women walk for longer than men for all age groups except the oldest.  I wonder why. Are the men using the cars? At 75-plus, women walk, on average for 47 minutes per week and men for 51 minutes.  I suspect this is because women generally live longer than men, so that age group will include more very old women whose mobility may be limited. Estimated time spent walking per week per person has fallen in the last 20 years for the population as a whole and for the 75-plus group. It has stayed about the same for people 65-74.

I am especially interested in public transport use by older people, given that the SuperGold Card has come in since I did the earlier research. Although the 75-plus group spends more time on public transport than people aged 65-74, the percentages do not seem to have increased in the last decade. It would be interesting to look into this in more detail.

Overall, about a fifth of people in this country reported that they had used public transport in the month before the survey. The proportion was lower for people 65 plus – only 14% had used public transport. This again underlines their reliance on private transport.

Taken all together, New Zealanders drive around 30,000 million km per year. While this has remained about the same recently, distances driven by older people have increased. I speculated about gender differences in travel modes and these are clear when it comes to driving. The graph below shows that distances travelled decrease with age from a peak in mid-life. But at all ages males drive further than females. The figures by sex are closer from age 70 onwards.

Driver Travel by Age and Sex

This reflects the fact that more women than men are non-drivers. In the 65-plus age group (in the 2009-2012 Travel Survey) 15% of women and 2% of men had never driven. These figures have declined over the years through a cohort effect, because more and more women coming into the older age groups have been lifelong drivers.

Research in New Zealand and overseas indicates that older people hold strong preferences for private transport[2] and this is how most of them travel. In my next blog I will look at what happens when a car is no longer available.

Dr Judith A. Davey
Age Concern New Zealand voluntary policy advisor
Senior Research Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

[1] Most of the figures quoted are from the 2006-2009 Household Travel Survey, Ministry of Transport.

[2] Private transport is defined as a motor vehicle or vehicles owned by an individual or couple, kept at their residence and available at all times for personal transport.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit
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