Rideshare for Seniors

Elder Rideshares: Community Supported Models of Transportation

Proposed Pilot Project

Prepared by Jeffrey Brown, RideBuzz Executive Director, Aug 06, 2008



Target Population

1. Network: There are two primary communities that RideBuzz is exploring for the Pilot Project.  Engaging in a stakeholder process will narrow down the particular community that is better suited and in support of seeding a Pilot Project..


a) Town of Amherst (year 2000 Census Data): There are 2,201 people over the age of 65.  The percent of this elder population living with a disability is 30.8 percent or 677 persons. *


b) City of Northampton (year 2000 Census Data): The population over 65 years of age is 3,993 (13.8 % of the population). **


c) Expansion of a Pilot program: The target population could be revised to include a larger geographic region, if a stakeholder process identifies, and/or secures sufficient resources - such a project could encompass areas surrounding the route 9 corridor from Northampton to Amherst, including Hadley.  Likely a second year target that would require additional seed funds.


* Amherst is being considered as a test bed because of it’s proximity to Umass and RideBuzz.  RideBuzz currently is working with interns from Umass, and proximity increases the opportunity and ease of collaboration. 


** Northampton has a larger elder population and HVES is headquartered in Florence, which would also increase convenience for collaborative projects.  RideBuzz is currently pursuing other projects in Northampton that could yield synergistic benefit to an elder pilot project. 


*** Even though a larger geographic area would provide a better service network for elders, it may detract from the quality of a successful pilot program. 


2. Needs and Possibile Solution

Section 1: Defining Need

Section 2: Background information about Ridesharing and the Potential Section

3: The grant effort:

      a) Pilot Program Overview 

      b) Grant: Line Items

      c) Volunteer Driver and Marketing Recruitment Resources

      d) Questions for the stakeholder process



Section 1: The Need for New Transportation Strategies


"The growth in the number of senior citizens in the U.S. is prompting much concern among both transportation organizations about how to accommodate senior's future transportation needs.  The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of senior citizens will increase nearly 80 percent between 2005 and 2025 - to more than 62 million (1 TDM -“ David Ungemah)."  Rising energy prices and cut-backs in human service transportation necessitate new strategies that build transportation capacity for a rapidly growing population of elders.  Transportation strategies that increase social interaction and mobility are likely to benefit the health and well-being of elders, especially those that do not have the support of local family members. 


"The greatest challenge in providing reliable and needed public and human service transportation services is the lack of operating funding. Without sufficient funding sources for operations, unmet transportation needs cannot be adequately addressed."  Because of this, many transportation providers are forced to reduce or eliminate service in an effort to stay within budget and serve a large service area." - (ref. PVPC Coordinated Public Transit Human Services Transportation Plan - Feb 2008). 


Section 2: Background information about Ridesharing and the Potential

 RideBuzz seeks to tap into an entirely underutilized transportation resource - the personal automobile.  There are currently 1.4 million empty car seats jostling around the streets of the Pioneer Valley that are not being put into productive human service.  Americans spend on average roughly 25% of their household expenditures on passenger transportation, which also emits 20-25% of per capita greenhouse gas emissions, and is a major contributor to climate change. The money spent on gasoline to propel these empty seats is depleting our regional economy. 


Ridesharing is an Innovative and Practical Response RideBuzz's work constitutes an ongoing effort to increase access to low-cost and energy efficient transportation options through a cost-effective and scalable hub of social information networks.  Through this work, Ridebuzz is building a new paradigm of transportation options that utilize existing vehicle infrastructure and web-based Information Technology (IT) Systems that help connect and engage a caring community to balance their mobility needs.  In this community-supported transportation model, participants put into service for the common good, their privately owned vehicles by offering to share a ride with passengers.  Participants are motivated by a desirable value of compensation (i.e. financial, social, environmental. mobility).  This socially cooperative mobility model relies on a community's general ability to share resources, or in this case rides, which will be referred to for intensive purposes within this document as ridesharing (community supported ridesharing). 


A New Energy Crisis, a New Opportunity

The rising price of gasoline is once again inspiring an increasing segment of the population to seek low-cost transportation alternatives.  Public transportation ridership has increased in Boston by 6% percent in fiscal year 2008 over 2007, which is the greatest increase in 44 years (ref. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).  The Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, Bernard Cohen said, "Four dollars a gallon seems to be the turning point here in terms of people rethinking modes of travel." This new cost consciousness is reinforced every time someone fills their gas tank.  Recent media attention highlighting Climate Change is also contributing to changes in consumer and behavioral habits, but not to the same degree as escalating energy prices, which have been triggered by an increasing world demand for oil that is outpacing available supply.  During the energy crisis of the late 70-80's, the use of web-based rideshare systems were not in place, nor did the internet even exist as an option.


Seeking Low-cost Alternatives

The price of goods is also rising in relationship to the cost of the energy used to produce them, unfortunately salary increases are not keeping up with pricing.  As with an increasing segment of the population, our Local, State, and National Governments have a tightening budget to balance.  This new scenario could be an economic "perfect storm," and it represents challenges for maintaining current levels of social service, and also represents challenges for maintaining private ownership of vehicles.  On the flip side, these challenges represent a significant opportunity that can be met by a responsive community that learns to share rides as an adaptive strategy. As part of a responsive effort, RideBuzz is inspiring a creative process to address significant challenges by implementing new adaptive transportation strategies.  Both drivers and passengers will find that sharing the cost of a ride leverages their financial resources.


A Scalable and Growing Resource

Ridesharing can be applied to address community transportation needs on a much larger scale.  RideBuzz has been active in the community of the Pioneer Valley to increase awareness of the benefits of ridesharing, and as a result of this activity is experiencing increases in members and site traffic.  The RideBuzz Ridesharing System is a growing transportation resource which can provide rides for necessary and discretionary trips - i.e. Commutes, Medical appointments, shopping, and other activities.


A Significant Messaging Campaign Needed

The potential for a widely adopted system clearly exists, especially because people are seeking alternatives.  This is an opportune time to pursue a significant messaging campaign to help integrate ridesharing practices into the social fabric - educating communities and improving the behavioral etiquette of sharing resources.  Ridesharing is being led locally by motivated early adopters of the RideBuzz system, and they are helping build the essential critical user mass that will enable ridesharing to achieve an optimal level of convenience (last-minute capability) and reliability in the future.  This will help achieve an inevitable dynamic rideshare model to emerge. 

 Existing Elder Programs

There is limited information on utilizing web-based social networks for an Elder Rideshare program.  A Google Search for the terms - Elder Ridesharing - reveals limited activity.  Three of the top 10 search results have references to RideBuzz (as of the date this was published).  The State of Florida's Department of Elder Affairs recommends Ridesharing, but merely states "Contact family, friends and neighbors to explore ridesharing opportunities if they do not already exist in your community," but do not give more details or have a program in place.  The Independent Transportation Network (ITN) represents a socially entrepreneurial model of volunteer driving, but is not a web-based effort.  The ITN has been successful and boasts of stimulating local business.



Section 3: The grant effort:


a) Pilot Program Overview

RideBuzz will coalesce a stakeholder process and invite elders, volunteers, Elder Care Service Providers, local Councils on Aging, Transportation Committees, and University collaboration  to gather specific requirements that lead to the planning and implementation of a pilot project.  The goal of the pilot project is to develop a method where cooperating human service agencies and communities can co-deliver services that would yield a replicable community supported transportation model that could be expanded throughout the Pioneer Valley.  This process will gather practical knowledge by implementing a Pilot Program for Elder Ridesharing, in an active test environment, and will refine strategies that foster a volunteer ridesharing program for quality long living at home.  The learning from the pilot project will form the basis for further efforts to promote volunteer driving (sharing rides) in the region. 


b) Grant Line Items:

1) Perform Outreach work to hold a stakeholder meeting:  Educate Stakeholders about the Pilot Program and the potentiality it holds to address gaps in human service transportation.

2) Hold stakeholder meetings to address stakeholder questions.

3) Gather requirements for web-based technology that facilitates the coordination of drivers sharing rides between community members and elders. 

4) Design and implement Technology tools

5) Put into place a screening process for volunteer drivers

6) Message to the RideBuzz public ride board about opportunities to share rides with elders

7) Hold training sessions for volunteer drivers and interested community members.

8) Pursue Messaging Campaign

9) Explore Computer Literacy Classes and ridesharing system education for elders

10) Ensure a balanced and coordinated effort between organizations

11)  Inspire Graduate and Intern Student Projects


c) Volunteer Driver Recruitment (using possible incentives citizens dollars).

Pursue strategic partnerships with local volunteer organizations, universities (interns), employers, and use local advertising sources

      - Craigslist

      - Volunteer match.org

      - City websites

      - Newspaper ads and announcements

      - Flyers

      - PSAs and other radio programs

      - Press Coverage

      - Community Publications and magazines

      - Community Access Programming


d) Questions for the stakeholder process

1) What level of participation will stakeholders have to make this a realizable and sustainable effort?

2) What process for volunteer driver screening will be utilized and at what cost?  Cori?  Why? Why not? [To establish sufficient credibility of potential drivers/passenger that ensures a high quality and quantity of participation, but does not hinder a volunteer recruitment process.]

3) Which stakeholders will process applicants' requests for sharing?  Is there a way to automate requests using web based applications? 

4) Can the stakeholder committee locate and acquire additional funding to sustain the effort?

5) Would volunteer drivers require special safety training to assist elders that could be at risk for falling?

6) What indemnifications, if any, do volunteer drivers have under current law?

7) What are the liabilities for the volunteer drivers involved?  How can human service agencies share a service with their constituents if liability concerns arise?

8) What type of insurance is available for such a program?

9) What other grants are available to further pursue and expand the effort?

10) Exploring Incentives: How could Citizen dollars provide added incentive for volunteer drivers?