For the past two years my colleagues and I have periodically offered a class called “How to Rideshare” and it is held at the library or senior center. The course is divided into three sessions, because we have learned that seniors need time to process the information and practice. These students are not “digital natives.” It takes time for them to get comfortable with smartphone basics, store a credit card online, understand cellular data versus WiFi, and position a virtual pin on a virtual map. We have developed the class from scratch, using seniors to pretest our method, We also discovered the need to spend a lot of time going over the safety issues because seniors come full of worry….you can practically see the furrows in their brow.
SAFETY AS SENIORS SEE IT
A specific concern keeps many seniors wary of rideshare…. They fear that the drivers have a criminal record and will physically harm them. I don’t know the source of this anxiety, but I hunch that it originates from two concerns: first, trepidation about new technology, and second, an exaggeration on the part of the taxi industry of the rare rideshare trip that goes bad. Our classroom time dispels this safety issue. We describe the rigorous background checks (particularly in states like California and Massachusetts), we mention that Uber and Lyft provide millions of trips on a daily basis, and we describe the advantage of cashless payment and an always-on, always trackable GPS.
We dispel the idea that rideshare is not safe for seniors.
THE HIDDEN SAFETY ISSUE
But, there is a different aspect of rideshare that continues to put older people in harm’s way. Seniors are slow, and the rideshare business is fast.
In a recent training session, the students, probably age 70 and older (we don’t ask) had completed a five hours in the classroom, and were now excited to take their first road trip. The students successfully used their smartphone to get an Uber vehicle. For this session our destination was an ice cream parlor located on a fairly busy street; Uber had provided ride credits, and the ice cream store had provided complementary cones. It was to be a happy graduation.
WIthin minutes a young Uber driver, in a late-model 4 door sedan pulled up, and I hopped into the front seat, while my students, two older ladies, opened the rear doors to settle into the backseat. Except that one of them didn’t. This particular elder had a bum foot and needed to walk with a cane. She was mobile on her feet, but in a dragging sort of way. Meanwhile, the young Uber driver made a timing mistake- he waited the requisite period of time for an average passenger to load, and assumed that the lady was in the car. Without turning back to look at the passengers, he released the brake. The vehicle started to lurch forward while our bum-footed passenger had only one leg inside the door. She was in mid-air, suspended between the street and the car.
The story has a happy ending because the Uber driver grasped the gravity, immediately braked the vehicle before it could roll further, and sprang out to the rear door. There he lifted the hapless rider under her shoulder blades and wedged her into the backseat.
It was a fearful trip back to our classroom- like travel in slow motion. As we waited for the trip to end so we could assess her condition, we distracted ourselves with talk about the Uber driver’s four month only baby boy, aptly named Miles. At the end of the trip, 15 minutes and 5 miles later, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the lady with the bum foot took a step, then another, and hobbled away intact. No physical damage seemed to have been done, but we were all shaken up.
SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP
I don’t know that this student will ever ride again…and I certainly know that the experience gave me second thought about how to teach rideshare to elders. Maybe there were safety concerns that I had cavalierly ignored.
Rideshare is clearly a tough business to slow down, because the faster a driver turns around passengers, the more trips and the more revenue. At the end of the day, I do not think that rideshare and older people are incompatible, but I do wonder how to mesh them better. I am reminded that as the rideshare business, Uber and Lyft, reach out to more elderly and medical riders, there is an apt proverb. It goes: “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”