One little piece of news to come out of the White House Conference on Aging on Wednesday was this from Meghan Joyce, East Coast general Manager of Uber:
“Services like Peapod and ride-sharing giant Uber help [old] people 'live life as normal,'” she said during a panel discussion on technology and the future of aging, according to MedCityNews.
According to Emily Study writing at Senior Housing News, Joyce also announced that Uber is
”'...starting a new pilot in a number of cities to partner with local governments and organizations to drive better...mobility and access to older people in those communities,' she said.
“Across the country, Uber will offer free technology tutorials and free rides at select retirement communities and senior centers. The company hopes to further the conversation about the way technology can improve older adults’ day-to-day lives, according to a blog post announcing the new pilot.
“'Twenty-six million Americans depend on someone else as a way to get around, and I think technology helps them to solve that problem effectively,' Joyce said. With Uber, 'older riders are now able to regain their independence.'”
In addition to those free tutorials for elders, Uber may want to hold a few for their drivers. This posting appeared at a discussion board for Uber drivers in April from one calling him- or herself “UberFocus.” I'm quoting at length for the full effect:
”In the last week I've picked up three older people (older than 50). All were terrible.
“The cool thing about Uber passengers is most of them are young. They're in their 20's or 30's and generally know how the game is played. And compared to most other service jobs (retail, serving) tend to be nicer customers in general.
“But all three old people I picked up this week treated me like I was just a cabbie. They all criticized me for using Waze and insisted that they knew how to get to their destination better (they didn't). Two of the ladies were literally pointing in front of my face telling me to go this way or that way at the last second.
“One elderly guy, (seriously he was like 85) argued with me insisting he never selected uber pool. Then he looked upset that I didn't open the door for him. Seriously how entitled are you, I'm not your chaffeur.
“Putting the cabs out of business might be good for ride totals. But now we have to deal with their shitty customers.”
A few other drivers joined UberFocus in elder bashing but a lot of others jumped into with stories of how nice elders they've driven were and then the discussion turned to the fact that the driver, not Uber, has no liability if passengers (of any age) are harmed or injured - an important point I'll get back to below.
I am guessing that Ms. Joyce's announcement at the WHCOA is perhaps an extension of an earlier one last fall about UberASSIST. As the Uber website explains it, UberASSIST is
”...a new platform that will allow those needing an extra hand to request safe and reliable rides at the tap of a button...
“In just a few weeks we’ll be rolling out UberACCESS. With UberACCESS, we are growing our wheelchair accessible vehicle supply, transforming disabled transit and allowing on demand pickups within minutes instead of days.”
Uber is testing these new services in several cities including Gainesville, Florida and Houston, among others.
We have often discussed on this blog the fear we who don't live in big cities like New York and Chicago with good public transportation systems have about how constricted our lives will become if or when we are forced to stop driving.
Since hardly any cities and towns with subpar public transportation have shown an inclination toward improvement, services like those Uber is testing are going to be crucial to elders' ability to get around.
Uber continues to face complaints and backlash from traditional taxi services, activists and local governments (see one of the latest here) along with legal difficulties surrounding lack of benefits for their “independent contractor” drivers and liability issues for riders.
In some of these pilot programs, Uber is partnering with cities or senior living communities – organizations, I am guessing, that would not allow their residents to use a transportation service without appropriate liability insurance. (That's an education guess; I don't know that yet.)
So there are a lot of important issues to be resolved but I'm pretty sure these transportation programs will expand and also will grow beyond Uber to such other similar services as Lyft and to new startups that see the business potential.
However, a big question I have is about how suburbia, not to mention rural areas, can be served. It's one thing to provide urban transportation, quite another where distances between home and destinations can be much farther apart and customers far fewer.
Maybe that there are going to be so damned many of us old folks will make these services financially viable. Imagine how many more than Ms. Joyce's statistic of 26 million elders who now need help in getting around there are soon going to be.
For my own peace of mind and for all elders everywhere who have similar worries, I want Uber-for-Elders-style services moving forward quickly to relieve anxiety for all of us about the day we might not be able to drive anymore.