Norman has several personal drivers.
Don’t be jealous, though. It’s not as if she keeps them on payroll. She uses Uber.
When Judy wants to go somewhere, she opens the Uber app on her smartphone and requests a driver. Within minutes, a friendly resident of Fort Worth shows up in a fresh, clean vehicle to whisk her away to her destination for less than the cost of a typical taxi ride.
What’s wrong with a personal car?
Although many of us have a difficult time imagining life without a personal vehicle, many people can’t—or don’t want to—deal with one. In addition to purchase costs, there’s gas, maintenance, insurance, storage, state-required inspections…and so on.
Besides, the growing number of passenger vehicles in the US is causing headaches for cities of all sizes, generating traffic congestion and limited parking, smog, road maintenance, and deadly accidents. Mass transit is limited to routes that some people don’t find useful, and taxi rides can be costly.
And then there’s our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. Transportation alone is responsible for nearly three-fourths of total US petroleum consumption.
Riders, meet drivers—Drivers, meet riders
Savvy inventors and entrepreneurs are already developing new transportation options, including electric cars, self-driving cars, even flying cars. While some of these might become available to the public within this decade, what about the millions of passenger cars already on the road that have only one body in them—the driver?
Enter rideshare apps.
Uber, its chief competitor Lyft, and a few other businesses have harnessed the social internet accessible through mobile phones and developed a way to match people who need a ride with people who can provide a ride.
Judy, who lives in Trinity Terrace, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Worth, Texas, has been using Uber for at least four years now. Her first experience was actually in New York City while visiting her daughter Laura, a multimedia artist who resides there. “It’s so nice to relax and rely on a local driver who understands the city better,” Judy admitted.
And local drivers they are. David Rensvold, a resident of another continuing care retirement community, Mirabella Seattle, shares his car with ride seekers near him.
David has an accounting firm in Bellevue, Washington, where his schedule is often flexible. At the end of many workdays, he offers rides to folks needing a lift from Bellevue to Seattle. He’s going that way anyway.
When tax season is not in full swing, David provides morning transportation to workers—mostly Amazon employees, considering Mirabella’s South Lake Union neighborhood—who may have overslept and missed their regular transit option. Weekends are opportunities to shuttle and chat with tourists.
Don’t assume an Uber driver, including David, is any random person with a car, though. Drivers and their vehicles must meet minimum requirements.
A key benefit of Uber’s service, stressed both Judy and David, is how it encourages passengers to rate their driver on a 1- to 5-star scale. Any driver who falls below a 4.4 average rating is booted from the service.
(Drivers also rate passengers, so stay civil or you could be blocked from the service too.)
Personal transportation can’t get much easier
Although Judy could use taxis in New York and Fort Worth, she appreciates the lower cost and many benefits of using this rideshare alternative that relies on complex, efficient software technology. The app can immediately identify the driver’s location and your location and provide you with a real-time tracking map on your smartphone that shows you where the driver is and how they’re approaching you.
David sees other benefits to passengers choosing Uber. Drivers turn on their side of the app only when they’re available, and they can head in your direction immediately without relying on a dispatcher for coordination. The app also provides you with the driver’s name, photo, and vehicle description, so you know who and what to look for.
Just as efficient, the app requires you to set up your automatic method payment ahead of time, so you never have to worry about carrying cash, convincing a taxi driver to accept a credit card, or even worry about the transaction at the end of the trip—in case, for example, you want to hop out quickly at a red light to avoid sitting in congested traffic near your drop-off point.
Then there’s the peace of mind it provides if you want to travel in poor weather or have some drinks at your destination, David added.
Natural fit for aging adults
Both Judy and David have access to chauffeured transportation provided by their retirement communities, but they prefer the immediacy and flexibility of Uber, especially since they’re so active day and night.
In the past three years she’s lived in Fort Worth, Judy has grown to use Uber almost every other day. “It’s so cheap and easy!” she exclaimed. Either alone or with a group, she hires Uber drivers to go to the airport, medical appointments, the supermarket, the mall, and one of her favorite places, the theater where her daughter Kathleen is the artistic director.
Although Judy still owns a car that she drives occasionally, she admits using a service like Uber is less expensive than auto insurance, much less when factoring in gas and maintenance costs, too. “I’m also preparing for the day when I may need to give up my car,” she admitted. “I’m getting familiar with options now so I won’t feel stranded if that time comes.”
Besides, both Judy and David agree that the service is a fun way to meet new people and learn more about their cities.
Lyft now offers services designed specifically for seniors
Uber competitor Lyft has partnered with Aging2.0 to offer transportation options that improve the independence and self-confidence of older adults. Two retirement communities in the PRS family, Trinity Terrace in Texas and University Retirement Community in Davis, California, have set up their own facility Lyft accounts for the convenience of residents who don’t want to set up personal accounts.