By Patti Jo Lambert
For Pittsburgh Senior News
Lori Magnes was stuck. The North Hills resident lives by herself and doesn’t have a car thanks to an accident that left her without her own wheels. Her access to public transportation is extremely limited, with a Port Authority bus stop too far away from her home. Lori would use ride-sharing services when she had no other choice but the cost of the trips was eating into her monthly social security checks, her only source of income.
Lori’s experience is all too common. Many Pittsburgh area seniors have limited reliable means to get to medical appointments, grocery stores and other necessary places so they can live independently.
Now, Travelers Aid, a nearly century old, nonprofit organization that provides transportation assistance to a variety of populations, is partnering with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to provide a concierge-style Senior Ride Hailing Program. It began about a year ago and has already served nearly 400 seniors.
Here’s how it works:
• The senior contacts a Travelers Aid representative to schedule a ride via Uber or Lyft. Prior to the scheduled pick-up, the representative contacts the senior to relay the driver’s name, color/make of car and arrival time.
• The senior is picked up and driven to the destination.
• The same process applies for the return trip.
To be eligible to participate, seniors must live more than half a mile from a Port Authority bus stop or have mobility issues that prevent them from getting to one. Time of travel and distance are also taken into consideration before a senior is approved for the free trip.
With the growth of ride sharing services available in the region, Travelers Aid believes partnerships like this program can make a significant impact for seniors. “Our mission is to help people with their transportation needs, and the senior community stands out as one that needs our focused support,” says Executive Director Bob Lindner. “More than 70 percent of the participants say the program has increased their social interaction, enabled them to maintain independence in their home, and has helped them keep medical appointments. Something as simple as providing a reliable ride really does make a difference in the lives of our region’s seniors.”
Like many social service programs, there is more need for the program than available funding. “The Senior Ride Hailing Program is already a proven success,” Lindner adds. “The transportation and program coordination is available, but we simply don’t have enough financial support to meet the tremendous need. We are actively seeking additional funding from corporations, foundations and individuals so we don’t have to turn away any senior who needs to get their medicine, see their doctor or purchase groceries.”
“Transportation is the number one requested service from older adults throughout the region,” comments Heather Sedlacko, director of Programs for Seniors and People with Disabilities for the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “United Way is dedicated to partnering with agencies working on innovative solutions to our community’s needs. With ride-hailing still newly on the market, the Senior Ride Hailing Program could provide a solution for long-term change.”
The program has made a huge impact on Lori Magnes’ life. “I’m not a captive prisoner in my home where I have to stay here and can’t go anywhere,” she says. “The people at Travelers Aid who help me coordinate my rides are fantastic. Feeling safe is very important to all seniors, and I feel safe because I know someone is always coming for me and sometimes they even check in on me to make sure I’m alright. They have my back.”
To learn more about the Senior Ride Hailing Program, contact Traveler’s Aid at (412) 281-5474.