Transportation for Seniors – We’re Going Places #2

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Guest blogger Alex Iselin explores specific tech-based transportation options for seniors

Part 2 of a 3-part series

Like their younger counterparts, seniors have transportation needs. They need the grocery and other stores, they need time with friends, they need medical care – just to begin the list. Notably, 79% of individuals age 65 and older live in suburban or rural areas.1 And in 2014, 16.9% of the 38.4 million Americans age 65 and older, and 26.3% of the 14.6 million Americans age 75 and older, didn’t drive.2 While seniors may stop driving at some point, their need to leave home continues.

We could think about all of the ways that we can transport – bus, foot, bicycle, car, moped…but many of these don’t work well for seniors. In fact, the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) estimates that 26 million older Americans depend on others for mobility.3 Fortunately, there is an amalgam of transportation options for non-driving seniors. Ride-sharing is one such resource.

Lift Hero, for example, offers rides exclusively to seniors in the San Francisco Bay area without the need for a smartphone. All Lift Hero drivers have first aid certification and complete a thorough training program that covers assisted living equipment and emotional issues. The service also provides roundtrip rides, access to driver profiles, and family and friends can track ride progress in real-time via email or text. The company has even considered offering an add-on service in which drivers would record medical consults and communicate them securely to family. These features are unique, which helps distinguish Lift Hero as a senior-focused option among the ride-sharing services.

While Uber and Lyft don’t target the senior population like Lift Hero, they have come a long way in meeting the needs of seniors. Following its participation in the White House Conference on Aging in 2015, Uber began piloting a program at retirement communities and senior centers in several cities that provides free or discounted rides and free technology tutorials (since the service requires use of a smartphone). Uber has also created UberAssist, a service for individuals with physical disabilities that enlists specially trained drivers using vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Just recently, Uber teamed up with Revera, a senior living community in Canada, and is now offering rides to residents at The Annex independent living community in Toronto. This community leverages UberCentral – a service created for businesses, rather than for seniors – without the need for a smartphone or an Uber account (eliminating one potential barrier to use).

Lyft has also made considerable strides in its transportation services for seniors. The company released a pilot feature that allows riders to schedule rides in advance. While not marketed as a service targeted at seniors, scheduling rides ahead of time has the potential to help seniors miss fewer medical appointments, visit family more often, and feel more independent. Since starting Lyft for Good, a program designed to support community initiatives, Lyft has partnered with the San Francisco chapter of Little Brothers to provide rides for seniors to medical appointments, as well as with Meals on Wheels in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and Austin to deliver meals to homebound seniors. Additionally, Lyft ran a holiday season fundraiser with PayPal in which riders across the country made tip donations that raised over $95,000 for Meals on Wheels.

Like Uber, Lyft’s efforts in the space include an increasing number of tactical partnerships. The company created Concierge, a platform that allows local partners to request rides for their customers through Lyft without a smartphone. Lyft formed a partnership with NEMT provider National Medtrans Network in New York City to fulfill rides for seniors to non-emergency medical appointments. And in recent weeks, Lyft has formed additional partnerships with Sunshine Retirement Living (to provide rides for retirement community residents), with GreatCall (to offer rides through an easy-to-use cell phone for older adults), and with Aging2.0 (the leading organization that accelerates innovation for the aging population).

Bearing in mind these developments in transportation options for seniors, let’s take a closer look at the challenges these services seek to address. They offer rides for everything from medical appointments, groceries, and pharmacy visits to errands, social gatherings, and community events.

Convenience: bus stops, subways, and other modes of public transportation pose numerous challenges for seniors. Public transportation schedules are limited in certain areas, and stops are often prohibitively far from seniors’ residences and destinations. Seniors may face other physical and psychological challenges, such as vehicle entry and exit, variable weather, lack of confidence in personal safety and self-protection, lack of available seating, and difficulty with map reading and navigation. Family members are often busy with work and their own families, or may not live nearby. Seniors who don’t have a friend, family member, or caregiver nearby are less likely to have ease with scheduling transportation. Ride-sharing services are a handy solution.

Cost: Compared to drivers and taxis, ride-sharing services are often comparable in price while offering several other benefits.

Accessibility: Seniors who use wheelchairs, scooters, and other mobility devices need their rides to be accessible. This remains an area of opportunity for most ride-sharing services, as drivers that work for ride-sharing services use their own vehicles which are often not accessible.

Assistance and accompaniment: Seniors may need door-through-door service, such as support during car entry/exit, bag carrying help, and assistance after a medical appointment. Roundtrip rides and on-call drivers may be needed. According to findings from the National Household Transportation Survey, compared to driving seniors, non-driving seniors make 15% fewer trips to see the doctor, 59% fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65% fewer trips to visit family and friends.4 In addition, approximately 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues, 16.3% of whom are age 70 and older.5,6

Trust: One of the most important concerns for seniors when leaving home is trusting their driver. Ride-sharing services are increasing rider access to driver profiles. Still, seniors who don’t use technology may need to rely on others such as their adult children to select a trustworthy driver.

Social isolation: Seniors, like younger folks, need social interaction to achieve and maintain a high quality of life. Ride-sharing services provide seniors the opportunity to visit with their friends and families, attend local community events, and participate in social gatherings. Studies have shown that isolation and loneliness in seniors is associated with health-related issues and mortality.7,8

Each ride-sharing service has its own strengths and weaknesses. By positioning itself as a senior-focused service, Lift Hero offers targeted services that address senior-specific needs. Uber and Lyft are more widely available and have strong brand recognition, particularly among younger generations. This may increase the likelihood of their use by seniors, since both recommendations and introduction to using the service may come from children and grandchildren. Still, there are gaps. Vehicle accessibility, service availability for seniors in rural areas, specialized driver training, pre-ride trust in drivers, and seniors’ awareness of the options available to them all pose barriers to the adoption of these services. The amalgam of logistical and psychological factors that play a role in how seniors make transportation decisions has generated a market chock-full of opportunity for further growth and development.

About Alex Iselin: Alex is the Founder of Better With Age, a user experience research and design strategy consultancy that helps teams create products and services that address the needs of older adults. Alex applies a range of methods to identify, deconstruct, and strategically solve complex design challenges. By employing a human-centered approach, he supports teams in developing a deep understanding of their users, making data-informed design decisions, and creating relevant and impactful products and services. Please feel free to reach out via email or on LinkedIn.