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Uber could be beneficial for seniors: study

(iStock Photo)

Researchers find ride-sharing potentially used for the elderly would help cities save millions of dollars

BC's public consultation process on allowing ride-sharing is underway

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Getting around can be tough for seniors who have given up their car, many with mobility issues can have a hard time getting to the doctor, the recreation centre and even the grocery store just down the street.

But a new study out of the US suggests there is an easy solution that could fill gaps in local transit service while potentially saving cities millions of dollars by cutting the cost of paratransit services.

The report from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation points to ride-hailing companies like Uber as a supplement to volunteer driver programs and door-to-door transit services like HandyDART, suggesting they team up with transit agencies to add more options for seniors and cut costs.

One local seniors’ advocate says if and when ride-hailing services are allowed to operate in Metro Vancouver, it would be a welcome addition. “I think there could be a place for a ride-sharing program or company to fill a void in the transit system, specifically around HandyDart for example,” says Anthony Kupferschmidt, executive director of the West End Seniors’ Network in Vancouver. “There are programs that enable volunteers to support seniors and drive them to medical or other appointments, but the existing gaps and challenges with HandyDART open up an opportunity for this kind of service.”

Kupferschmidt calls the current transportation options for seniors who don’t drive challenging, even in a walkable neighbourhood like Vancouver’s West End. “Very often we will have seniors sitting and waiting at one of our locations waiting for the HandyDART bus to come, even after we have closed, because of the challenges in the system, things like miscommunication,” he tells NEWS 1130. “There is not enough capacity and there really is a growing need as the population continues to age.”

He points out some seniors’ networks already embrace the sharing economy by utilizing services like Modo or car2Go for volunteer drivers who don’t own a vehicle. “We are trying to take advantage of new models to benefit seniors and ride sharing would be the next level.”┬áThe NYU report admits there are some complications.

Most rideshare services are not wheelchair-friendly and paratransit riders are more likely to be low-income, and may not have access to smartphones or the Internet. It also notes that drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing services likely haven’t received specialized training to deal with specific disabilities, wheelchair models, vehicles, and dispatch systems.

“Certainly one of the hurdles is the technology component,” agrees Kupferschmidt. “But seniors are the fastest growing population in terms of Internet use and cellphone use. I think it will be less of a challenge over time.”┬áLocal mayors and other local leaders are discussing the technology as they meet at the Union of BC Municipalities conference this week in Victoria.

The province’s public consultation process on whether or not to allow ride-sharing services in BC has been underway since January.