This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section.
Many older folks find themselves stranded in the gap between transportation and technology. They no longer drive, and they don’t have, or can’t use, a smartphone to order rides like their grandkids do on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
Ridesharing services are the modern equivalent of taxis that customers summon via an app on a smartphone. The customer requests a ride to a destination, then receives instant data on the car, driver, pickup time and cost of the trip. A car usually arrives within minutes. Billing is done automatically via an online account, so no cash is exchanged.
Within the last year or so, ridesharing companies, phone companies and technology companies have introduced options to make ridesharing accessible to everyone, even if they do not have a smartphone.
In August 2016, the senior phone company GreatCall partnered with Lyft to allow GreatCall customers to dial a ride by simply pressing 0 on their GreatCall phone. (This service works with GreatCall models Jitterbug Flip and Jitterbug Smart.)
The GreatCall personal operator handles the request for the ride. Once it is ordered, the customer receives a text message on their phone letting them know who will be picking them up, at what time, and the cost estimate. Lyft has more than 100,000 drivers across the country, offering round-the-clock service. GreatCall says the program has exceeded goals since it was launched.
GreatCall customer Del Kocher, 80, of Aurora, started using the service as soon as he found out about it. He has used it for doctor appointments, and to attend a funeral. He says the cost is reasonable, and cheaper than taking a taxi.
Kocher had one instance where a driver canceled while he was waiting. He simply called GreatCall back, and shortly a Cadillac arrived to take him home.“It has been very good service overall,” he says.
Kathryn Petrik, 86, of Des Plaines, likes the fact that she knows about her driver and car ahead of time.“They text me the type of car, the license plate number, and who the driver is, so I know which car to get into,” she says.She also likes the fact that her rides are billed to her monthly phone statement so she doesn’t have to pay in cash or tip.
Petrik stopped driving a few years ago. Though she lives with her son and his family, she likes that she doesn’t have to lean on them every time she has a doctor appointment.
Another company that works in conjunction with a ridesharing service is GoGoGrandparent. It also has live operators who arrange rides via Uber. Or users can simply dial GoGoGrandparent’s toll-free number and press 1 on their phone to be picked up. Users do not need a special phone to use the service. In fact, they don’t even need a cell phone. They can simply dial 855-464-6872. It works anywhere in the U.S. that Uber operates.Users need to set up a GoGoGrandparent account first, either on the website at gogograndparent.com, or on the phone.
GoGoGrandparent was launched in January 2016 by young tech entrepreneur Justin Boogaard in an effort to help his grandmother get around after he moved out of the house.
Clients like having a go-between to make sure they are taken care of, he says.
“Our operators are called ‘professional grandchildren.’ They have each client’s profile, so we can let the driver know they have a special senior client, or that they need to be picked up at a certain door, or they have a walker,” Boogaard says.
The family of an older person can receive text notifications that their loved one is on the move, as well.
There is a small upcharge per ride to use GoGoGrandparent in addition to Uber’s rates. Clients are billed by GoGoGrandparent.
Boogaard adds that about 40 percent of his clients do have smartphones, but prefer to let GoGoGrandparent order their rides. The service is available in the U.S. and Canada.
Lyft and Uber also have little-known desktop options, which allow customers to request a ride from their computer, as long as they have a cell phone that allows them to receive text messages. They can be found at ride.lyft.com and m.uber.com.
Seniors and their families can look forward to a lot more in the ridesharing arena. Uber spokeswoman Molly Spaeth says Uber is looking to make its mission of accessible, affordable reliable transportation at the push of a button a reality for any senior.
For example, Uber is currently running pilot programs with senior care facilities and medical centers to help seniors get where they need to go.In 2016 Uber debuted Family Profiles, which allow all family members’ rides to be billed under one account, and offers notifications when someone takes a ride.
Lyft has Lyft Concierge, which makes it easy for senior care managers to request rides on behalf of seniors.
Boogaard says GoGoGrandparent may branch out to meal deliveries and other services and partnerships. “The first things that people need are transportation and meals, and that is why many move into care facilities,” he says. “We can take care of those things so people can stay at home longer.”