This Is Not Your Grandma’s Taxi

Having worked with numerous organizations over the years that provide services and care to seniorsDelorean_DMC-12_Time_Machine_in_San_Francisco living in their communities I know that transportation is very often a primary obstacle to expanding and improving those services and care. Whether needed for a doctor’s visit, a rehabilitation appointment, a flu shot, a socialization event, a trip to visit family – it is typically not the distance as much as the inability to coordinate the timing of demand with availability in an efficient manner that creates challenging cost obstacles.

There are organizations across the country that have been effective at tackling this obstacle by leveraging information and communication technology. For example, Senior Transportation Connection serves individuals in Cuyahoga County, Ohio by utilizing mapping and scheduling algorithms (EasyRides©). I had the opportunity to visit their “command center” a few years back and was impressed with how much they are able to do with so little financial support. Truly amazing.

Even so, seniors using STC have to schedule their travel appointments by noon two days prior to the appointed time. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to realize there will be many circumstances when the best efforts to plan ahead will fall well short of providing the level of access needed for many seniors still wanting to live independently.

Enter Uber. Jason Oliva writes in yesterday’s Senior Housing News that the San Francisco-based ride service company has just announced it will be expanding its transportation services into San Diego. UberWAV and uberASSIST are ride offerings specifically designed to accommodate elderly individuals living with disabilities.

For those – who until recently included myself – unfamiliar with the Uber concept, the simple genius (yeah, one of those V8 moments I’m afraid) is the development of a smartphone application that connects passengers with vehicles for hire. Not a cab for hire, mind you, but an individual who has signed up and been vetted to provide safe, reliable transportation (yes, I would like to understand that whole process better myself – but that’ not the point of this post).

From a business perspective, the value proposition appears to be the ability to concurrently offer convenience and affordability on the demand side while providing income-earning flexibility and lower barriers to entry on the supply side. As you might imagine, the lower barriers to entry proposition has not played well with taxi and limousine companies – there have actually been protests staged in several countries, including Germany, France and England. I’m sure we’ll get round to it once we get by Halloween.

Now you can just see where this idea is going to eventually cause all sorts of policy issues: free market solutions to public challenges usually do, for better or worse. What are the safety risks? Who is insuring those risks? What happens after the first case of elder abuse is reported?

Having the requisite vehicle apparatus to accommodate disability is one thing – having a driver that can thoughtfully and emotionally navigate through an individual’s confusion and dementia is another. Will seniors be able to use the application in a crisis? Can it/should it be available in cases of emergency? There’s a lot to think about to protect seniors from abuse – intended or not.

On the other hand, if we follow the tried and true path of policymaking we will almost certainly regulate Uber services to the point where a creative solution becomes cost prohibitive. Without market-driven innovation we will never be able to tackle all of the challenges associated with a dramatically aging society.

What do Pub patrons think? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

  ~ Sparky

Photo credits:
Delorean DMC-12 Time Machine in San Francisco
CC BY-SA 3.0
Ed g2s – Own work

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