Local Transportation Options for Seniors
Driving means independence, but it can also mean danger if your eyesight and reaction time aren’t roadworthy. New ridesharing services, special public transportation options, and even home caregivers can give you a lift when you need one. How do these services companies compare? Let’s take a look.
Uber is the best known taxi alternative. Uber connects passengers to drivers via smartphone in countries around the world. Payments are made through an app, avoiding the need to carry cash. Rates vary but can be a good deal. For example, a taxi from my office to a nearby college campus would cost $37. The same trip with Uber would cost $16 to $51, depending upon the type of car I select.
That $16 fare looks like a steal. However, Uber adjusts its fares in real time based on traffic, demand, and weather, and some riders who’ve been hit with high “surge fares” have complained. Stories of Uber riders charged $300 or more for short trips have made the news since at least 2013. Veteran Uber users recommend you avoid surprises by always getting a fare estimate before you book your ride.
Lyft is another ridesharing service available in many US cities. The taxi ride that would cost $16 with Uber and $37 with a local cab company will cost $26 or $39 with Lyft, depending on the service level. Lyft has a pricing policy similar to Uber’s, with “prime time” fares up to twice as high as regular rates, so again, it pays to get an estimate before booking.
Ridesharing safety concerns
Although a recent Libertarian think tank study says Lyft and Uber are as safe as licensed taxis, both companies were sued in December by California prosecutors who say their background checks are inadequate. Uber drivers have been charged with assaulting passengers in several US cities and in Delhi, India, where the service has been banned. This spring, Uber announced a review of its safety policies and brought in outside firms to step up passenger safety.
Among the safety recommendations from Uber officials are using the app to share your estimated arrival time with friends and having them track your ride in real time on their smartphones.
Other alternatives for getting around town
Ridesharing is trendy, but it’s not the only option. Most public transit authorities offer special transportation services for seniors and riders who can’t use regular bus and rail lines. For example, the MetroAccess program in Austin, Texas, provides shared rides along existing service routes for riders with mobility issues, and the Access-A-Ride program offers deeply discounted on-demand taxi service. A Metro Access monthly pass costs less than $50.
Riders who don’t qualify for special access can call a cab to get to and from doctor appointments and to the grocery store. Most services will quote you a fare in advance over the phone or online — no app needed.
Home health care agencies often include errand and appointment transportation in their services, sometimes for an additional fee. Rates vary by region; the average US home health aide cost is about $20 per hour.
If these options aren’t available where you live or if the cost is too high, check with your area senior center and with local service organizations to see if there are any volunteer programs offering rides for seniors. Giving up driving isn’t something any of us look forward to, but going carless doesn’t have to mean being stranded at home.