| | By Lisa Fernandez
Glorietta G. Giles, 66, needed to get to her surgeon in the morning and then to her physician for a follow-up appointment later that afternoon.
She often takes East Bay Paratransit, a public shuttle service for the disabled. But this 1-mile trip was too short for paratransit and too long for her to walk considering her recent knee replacement.
So Giles called up LIFE ElderCare, a nonprofit that provides services such as Meals on Wheels to Alameda County seniors, to try out a new rideshare pilot launched the last week of March: VIP Zip, a ridesharing option just for seniors.
"It's excellent," Giles said. "I'm a happy patron."
Giles got to her appointments on time, and the Lyft driver who was called to give her a ride helped her out of her car and walked her up to the door.
Was she nervous? "I hadn't tried it before," Giles said. "But if you don't play, you can't win. I know I needed to try this."
VIP Zip was created for just this reason: To give anyone 60 years and older a ride with the idea of especially helping low-income seniors find transportation at rates they can afford.
In just over a month, the program had served 93 clients countywide in Oakland, Fremont, Hayward, San Leandro, and Castro Valley, where Giles lives, said Patria Osage, LIFE ElderCare's executive director. It's the first of three such test programs in California and funded with a $45,000, three-month grant from CSAA Insurance Group, an AAA insurer. The other two programs are being tested at private nonprofits in San Francisco. This is the first and only program launched in Alameda County to the public at large, Osage said. And when the three months are over, Osage is hoping that CSAA sees what a success the program is and funds it longer, or that individual cities will kick in to help offset the costs (Fremont already said it will) or other grant money or donations will flow in.
Here's how VIP Zip works: Seniors call LIFE ElderCare at 510-820-3201 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. They'll need to identify whether they are low-income, medium-low income, or don't need financial assistance and then put their credit card on file for future pickups. Rocio Jimenez, the nonprofit's transportation scheduler, who was hired with some of the grant money, will call a rideshare service—usually it's Lyft—and serve as the go-between between the senior and the rideshare driver. Jimenez, who speaks English and Spanish, makes notes in the app to alert the driver what the senior is wearing and where he or she is standing. Jimenez will either stay on the line with the seniors until they get picked up, or follow the route of the driver on the app to make sure that the transaction is complete.
"They identified me by what I was wearing," Giles said, "and they let me know the color of the vehicle that was picking me up. It all was as smooth as silk."
There are several other services that provide rides for the elderly—among the two most well-known are Go Go Grandparent or SilverRide. But the prices can be hefty because of the extra senior-catered surcharges, Osage explained, and the services become much too expensive for older adults living on a fixed income. Because of the CSAA grant, VIP Zip is offering between 20 to 40 free rides for seniors based on their finances to travel to medical appointments and grocery shopping. The service may be used by anyone and anywhere at the full price if the seniors can afford it.
The other issue for many seniors and a traditional rideshare service is that many are scared or ignorant of the technology that goes with it. "A lot of older adults don't have a smartphone or are not comfortable with using it," Osage said. "Or they've heard urban stories about how these drivers kill people and they aren't really trusting."
The VIP Zip program is a trusted liaison, Osage said, because the seniors aren't fiddling around with an unknown rideshare app; they're calling LIFE ElderCare, a program they're already familiar with.
"I don't have apps on my phone," Giles said. "I don't use those emojis."
Giles said using rideshare made her feel more independent.
"It's important to stay in contact with people," she said.
She added with a laugh: "I don't know about feeling like a millennial. But I got to where I needed to be."
To learn more about the VIP Zip program, visit www.LIFEElderCare.org or call 510-820-3201.