Since the majority of seniors want to "age-in-place," and they also live in automobile-dependent suburbs and rural areas, transportation is a major concern. Ridesharing is a promising and possible solution to the reality that many seniors no longer drive.
Does this mode of transportation have the potential to serve larger numbers of seniors effectively? It seems so.
A recent study by the Tompkins County Rideshare Coalition, in the State of New York, showed that the community surrounding Cornell University greatly benefited from a ridesharing promotional campaign. This campaign was coordinated with Zimride, a well-known, Internet-based ridesharing service. Over a period of almost three years, twelve thousand people availed themselves of the service and more than 15,000 rides were offered. Almost all of these postings were for one-time rides, and most covered between eight and eighteen miles.
Although college students used the service in the greatest numbers, the community used it at the highest rate. The community "portal" to the service also scored highest in finding matches between rides and riders. The authors of the Tompkins County report concluded that for their community, "a ridesharing program is essential to provide basic mobility for large segments of the population, including rural residents, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes."
Ridesharing has plenty of advantages. The Tompkins County study noted that ridesharing had great environmental and economic impact, which makes it attractive to policy makers. In a period of almost three years, more than a million miles of driving were saved. This resulted in huge monetary savings and great benefits to the environment from reductions in carbon monoxide emissions. Ridesharing services were found to be cost effective since they are usually Internet-based and are therefore easily accessible for little or no cost.
What's not to like about ridesharing? Two concerns stand out in particular regard to seniors, and the second one is true for everyone who utilizes ridesharing: 1) the Internet-based nature of ridesharing services requiring a smart phone, tablet, or computer and knowledge of how to use them 2) Safety.
Many baby boomers are at least somewhat tech-savvy and use social media like Facebook and Twitter and are also equipped with smart phones. Rideshare services can also be accessed by phone. A caregiver can help with the technological aspects, including arranging rides for the senior remotely.
Safety is, of course, a major consideration. The Tompkins County study acknowledged that safety concerns leap into the minds of most people first when it comes to ridesharing, no matter what age group is involved.
Matthew Feeney, author of a Cato Institute report titled "Is Ridesharing Safe?" acknowledged that "the emergence of a new industry that puts people into strangers' cars does give rise to legitimate safety concerns." Feeney noted, though, that the people most in danger in the transportation industry are not the passengers. He cited data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which show that the injury and homicide rates for taxi drivers and chauffeurs are the highest of all workers in the United States.
The Cato Institute report noted that ridesharing helps eliminate violent crime because of two highly protective factors: 1.) rideshare passengers are not anonymous for they have registered their information with a ridesharing site. Their whereabouts, contact information, and who they drove with and at what time are recorded, 2.) There is no transfer of cash involved because payments are made online.
Feeney concludes that ridesharing is as safe and probably safer than the use of traditional taxis. He also notes that ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft, screen their drivers more rigorously than most taxicab companies do, and drivers may be rated online after a ride.
Ridesharing, however, raises questions of insurance and the legal liability of irresponsible drivers. Yet Feeney concludes, "Notwithstanding these legitimate concerns and questions, the good news is that scare stories about ridesharing's safety and insurance risks are wildly overblown."
That doesn't mean that seniors and their caregivers should not be careful. Ridesharing services offered by trusted coordinators like community or county transportation agencies, human services organizations, or in cooperation with a university or other large community entity may be preferable. With reasonable caution, however, ridesharing can be a great way for seniors to gain greater mobility in their chosen location as they age in place.
Feeney, Matthew. "Is Ridesharing Safe?" The Cato Institute. Policy Analysis 767 (January 27, 2015). Available online at http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa767.pdf.
Tompkins County Rideshare Coalition Final Report for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the New York State Department of Transportation, Albany, New York (September 2013). Available online at: http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/51000/51100/51102/C-10-04_Final_Report_10-16-13.pdf.