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Going places

October 10, 2017
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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When Harriet Gerson first moved into independent living, she wasn’t ready to give up the keys. The then 94-year-old had places to go and people to see. And, she could still get around, she says.

Gerson still gets around. Only now, she doesn’t get behind the wheel.

Gerson learned the shuttle schedule at The Palace at Coral Gables, and her granddaughter helped install ride-hailing apps on her smartphone. Now she has the freedom to go to the doctor and visit friends whenever she wants—regardless of the schedule.

“When I moved to The Palace, I had an automobile, and I drove,” Gerson, 96, says to I Advance Senior Care. “But then I decided to sell my automobile because I could use Uber and Lyft.”

Gerson is an independent social butterfly and, like a growing number of seniors, uses on-demand ride-hailing services to get where she wants to go, when she wants to go.

Many of The Palace’s 250 independent and assisted living residents drive or have a friend in the community who does. Otherwise, that’s when the community’s shuttle van and ride-hailing companies come into play, says Anthony Costas, director of customer service.

“We definitely want residents to feel as independent as possible,” he says.  “One of the advantages of using companies like Lyft, Uber and GoGoGrandparent is that residents don’t feel like they are stuck. They don’t have to rely on others or their schedule, so that gives them the liberty to do what they want and remain active.”

Ride-hailing may be trending at The Palace, but a May 2016 report from the Pew Research Center suggests the community is still an early adopter. In its report, “Shared, Collaborative and On Demand: The New Digital Economy,” Pew found just 15 percent of American adults have used ride-hailing apps. Of them, only 4 percent were age 65 or older. However, more than 51 percent of Americans are familiar with ride-hailing services even though they haven’t used them, according to the Pew report.

Leading indicators suggest ride-hailing is picking up speed, and other startups are entering the arena with an eye on the fastest-growing demographic: seniors. Pew survey respondents were asked to choose what ride-hailing services do well from a list of options, and 73 percent said it’s a “good option for older adults with limited mobility,” the third most popular response.

Catching a ride

Ride-hailing companies work through smartphone applications to connect riders with drivers, who transport them in their personal cars. Both parties see each other’s profiles, which includes star ratings, photos, first names, temporary contact information and real-time location. Riders can also see the vehicle make, model, color and license plate number.

Since the copmanies launched, only people with smartphones who were comfortable and capable of using the technology could take advantage of ride-hailing. Then, in 2016, Uber and Lyft launched desktop web-based enterprise platforms that allow organizations to request a ride on another’s behalf, respectively called Uber Central and Lyft Concierge. Now riders no longer need to use an app or own a smartphone, an important consideration with seniors.

The digital barrier is so significant that Justin Boogaard formed a company on it. GoGoGrandparent is a third-party go-between that allows seniors to call a toll-free number to catch a ride with Uber and Lyft. GoGoGrandparent staff help request and monitor rides and serve as an intermediary. The company works directly with senior consumer users to help them  enjoy the benefits of on-demand transportation without having to worry about the technology.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a business,” Boogaard says. “I made it for my grandma because she was uncomfortable driving at night and wouldn’t call me for rides.”

He says word quickly spread at his grandma’s bridge club, revealing a need within the existing ride-hailing market. A May 2017 Pew report on tech adoption among older adults found 80 percent of seniors age 65 and up own a cellphone and, of them, 42 percent own a smartphone. Ownership declines with age, so only 17 percent of seniors age 80 and older have a smartphone.

Hopping on board

Ride-hailing is something Andy Smith, director of innovation and strategy at Brookdale Senior Living, has wanted for years in long-term care. Brookdale and Lyft have partnered to make the service available at more than 30 Brookdale communities nationwide, most which are independent living.

“Ride-hailing is one of the first times that we’ve been able to provide a safe, consistent, convenient and relatively inexpensive transportation option for seniors in a way that meets them where they are at technologically,” he says. “Not all seniors are comfortable with a smartphone or putting their credit card into an app. What Lyft has done with their Concierge program has really opened up a whole new world of opportunities to our residents, and that’s definitely worth the buzz.”

Smith says they weren’t sure what to expect once they started rolling out Lyft as part of a pilot program in fall 2016. Like many senior living providers, Brookdale operates a fleet of town cars and buses. They predicted fleet use would decrease because residents would opt for the on-demand convenience of Lyft.

More than 50 percent of residents at Brookdale Redwood City in California tried Lyft, more than 30 percent repeatedly used the service. Smith says he’s delighted to report those numbers have held steady as Lyft has expanded to more communities. In fact, repeat riders have slightly increased. Brookdale’s fleet is being used more in addition to Lyft, meaning more residents than ever before are getting active and involved.