Transportation is a hot-button topic for nearly everyone commuting in the Bay Area. But one local nonprofit and special district are starting to use the increasingly popular ride sharing economy for a somewhat unlikely demographic — seniors.
Peninsula Volunteers and the Sequoia Healthcare District have teamed up with Lyft to help able-bodied seniors avoid isolation by offering discounted rides to those visiting local senior centers.
Currently a small pilot program, the nonprofit connects older adults who are no longer driving with rides to the Little House senior center in Menlo Park. Seniors pay just $4 per Lyft, while the health care district picks up the remainder, said Peter Olson, interim executive director of Peninsula Volunteers, and health care district CEO Lee Michelson.
“One of the things that’s a constant discussion for older adults and people who serve them is transportation. It always comes up as a major concern. Especially for people who stop driving. They often become socially isolated and it’s not always convenient for them to use public transportation and taxis can be expensive. So we’re looking for more options,” Michelson said.
Just a month into the program, there are about 15 to 19 regular users who’ve reported positive experiences. Users call Little House staff, who arrange a Lyft that usually arrives in about 10 minutes and averages about $10 per ride, Michelson and Olson said. Staff is able to track their status, update users if there’s a delay and help retain members who stopped visiting the center after no longer being able to drive, Olson said.
Thus far, it has cost the district about $100 and depending on how the pilot goes this summer, they may consider expanding it to help seniors get to medical appointments, according to organizers.
There are several transit options for seniors such as public transportation, calling a cab or arranging a ride with SamTrans’ Redi-Wheels shuttle. This program is just another possibility that both Olson and Michelson noted is only available to able-bodied seniors who don’t need significant help getting into a car and can afford the $8 round trip.
“Transportation is an issue everybody’s facing and it’s no surprise. And there’s some great opportunities out there, but we were just looking for something a little different. There are all these ride shares, Uber and Lyft programs, that are growing in popularity. So why not take advantage of that? And for us, it seemed to be the most cost-efficient and it gives the user the most independence,” Olson said.
Both noted Redi-Wheels can be a great, very low-cost option, but it often requires advanced planning and the commute may be long as shuttles transporting several riders make multiple stops. Peninsula Volunteers decided to go with Lyft after hearing about a program the pink mustache brand was running in New York. The company had tried a “concierge” program that focused on seniors getting to hospitals or doctors appointments. The company has showed an interest in being a resource for seniors, Olson and Michelson said.
“We are proud to bring seniors, many of whom have regular medical appointments and limited transportation options, reliable and welcoming rides,” a Lyft spokesman said in an email.
Participants pay the nonprofit directly at the time of service and Lyft sends Peninsula Volunteers a monthly bill. The health care district makes up for the difference in cost.
The program is targeted toward Little House members who stopped visiting after they ceased driving or didn’t have reliable transportation, Michelson said.
“It’s in line with what we’re trying to do, which is keep folks healthy, keep them active, keep them socially connected. Because we know socially connected people do better from a health perspective and we’re willing to put in some money at this point,” Michelson said.
But at least one member of the health care district’s Board of Directors said he’s concerned about the program that may be spending taxpayer funds outside district boundaries.
“I believe a lot of people that do go to Little House come from areas that are not in the district,” said district Director Jack Hickey, a taxpayer advocate who added the senior center should ask the cities it serves and county to pitch in. “That would be the reasonable way to go about it. There’s plenty of sources for funding and it’s not appropriate for the district, which has specific geographical boundaries that don’t support lending to agencies like this.”
Little House is technically within the boundaries of the health care district, which covers about 11 zip codes from Portola Valley and Menlo Park to Belmont and parts of San Mateo.
The pilot was also expanded to the San Carlos Adult Community Center with Little House staff operating calls for those seniors as well. After testing the pilot this summer, Michelson said the district’s board will be presented with a report and a possible proposal to expand it as a convenient way for seniors to get to a doctor’s appointment.
“This is a direct to and from route and it’s on demand and so in my mind, that is as close to having your own car right now as we can get,” Olson said. “I think it’s a great alternative, it’s innovative and it’s just a different approach.”
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