As traditional taxi services continue to lose business to rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber, some seniors have been left stranded. However, a number of organizations, particularly within the Jewish community, have stepped up to fill the gap.
With more than 31 percent of seniors age 65 and older relying on others for transportation, according to the 2017 National Household Transportation Survey, the need within the Jewish community and beyond is significant. But there is help.
One such example is Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Senior Rides Program. Open to Jewish individuals age 65 and older, Federation currently partners with Envoy America, a subscription-based ride service that provides door-to-door transportation and companionship for seniors.
Founded in 2012, Envoy America seeks to do more than just get folks from place to place. The company’s driver companions also escort clients from their residences to the vehicle, help them shop, carry groceries into a residence or help with any number of other tasks.
“What Envoy America does is, first of all, work with drivers trained in memory loss and transfer,” explained Moshe Bellows, a member of Envoy’s advisory board and an equity stakeholder in the company. “When they come and pick you up, they escort you from your front door into the car. They’re trained to stow your wheelchair or your walker. When they drop you off at the doctor’s office, they don’t just drop you off at the curb, they actually help you into the medical facility.”
Bellows noted that roughly 70 percent of Envoy’s customers choose to sit in the front seat of vehicles, which he said illustrated the interpersonal nature of the connection between client and driver companion.
Participants in Federation’s Senior Rides program receive up to four rides per household per month. They pay only 25 percent of the cost of each ride, with a $6 minimum for short rides. Round-trip rides are covered for up to three hours and one-way trips for up to 20 miles, with participants covering the cost at the discounted rate, for any time or distance exceeding these limits.
“Our goal is to help seniors age in place and with Jewish dignity,” said Robin Loeb, chief operating officer for Federation. “The Senior Rides program is a key component. Seniors are able to travel not only to essential destinations, such as medical appointments and the grocery store, but also to attend social, religious and cultural events in the community. Many seniors use the ride program to participate in what most of us take for granted — family occasions, meeting friends at a restaurant, attending Shabbat dinner.”
The program provides an average of 110 rides per month. For 2018, Federation allocated $70,652 to the program and is currently still working to raise more funds from the community in order to expand its scope.
Allan Frenkel, a 78-year-old resident at Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix, has used the service regularly since its inception. He has found it to be more reliable than taxis or other alternatives. He also enjoys interacting with the driver companions.
“They’re personable and it’s enjoyable to ride with them,” Frenkel said. “The conversations are really interesting. You just don’t ride with them and nobody says anything. Their people are just first class.”
Frenkel has observed the impact the program has had not only on himself, but also on other Kivel residents.
“It has really enriched and changed lives,” he said.
Bellows, who is a nursing home administrator and whose family has managed senior living communities for three generations, notes that the rise of rideshare services has also affected senior facilities that provide transportation to residents.
“The assisted livings and the nursing homes are having a challenge with providing ample transportation for their residents,” Bellows said. “Assisted-living communities and nursing homes generally may have a bus or a van that does a glorified loop, but in today’s day and age, it’s not enough. They have a limited geographical footprint that they’ll drive to, but sometimes the resident’s church or synagogue is outside of that.”
Another option for seniors who may not have easy access to the internet or smartphones are nonprofits, such as Duet: Partners in Health & Aging, an interfaith nonprofit that promotes health and well-being through services for homebound adults. Duet pairs homebound adults with volunteers who provide rides and other assistance free of charge. However, due to considerable demand, the program currently has a 75-person waiting list, according to Shelly Everson, Duet’s public relations coordinator.
There is also Smile on Seniors, a volunteer program run by Chabad of Arizona, which pairs seniors with volunteers for weekly visits. Founded in 2009, Smile on Seniors serves individuals in assisted-living facilities, as well as those who living independently, offering a mix of companionship and access to group activities.
As the U.S. struggles to adapt to changing technology and demographics, the Jewish community has stepped in to help seniors and their families maintain their quality of life.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to provide folks who otherwise might be sitting lonely in their apartments the opportunities to go to events, to participate in Federation events, to participate in Jewish community events,” Bellows said. “I think we have an obligation to take care of the previous generation, the generations that allowed us to flourish, and I think that’s an incredible honor.” JN
Transportation contact information: Jewish Federation Senior Rides Program/Envoy America, 1-888-375-5558; Smile on Seniors, 602-492-7670; Duet: Partners in Health & Aging, 602-274-5022.