News that Washington cabbies didn’t stop for 27 percent of the people who wanted a ride doesn’t surprise David Gamse.
An undercover operation by the District of Columbia Taxi Commission found that of 308 rides tested over a 30-day period, drivers passed by 84. They included “African Americans and whites, males and females, and a range of ages, as well as an individual in a wheelchair and a person requiring the assistance of a Seeing Eye dog,” according to a report released Oct. 7.
Gamse, executive director for the Jewish Council for the Aging, has heard from numerous seniors about how difficult it is for them to get a ride.
“We hear anecdotal horror stories of seniors calling and not getting rides,” he said.
Cab drivers are required by law to pick up passengers seeking service, unless the taxi is engaged or off duty. But as the Washington undercover operation demonstrated, drivers are sometimes selective about their fares.
Affordable and accessible transportation needs for the elderly are only becoming more acute as seniors age and comprise a growing percentage of the population. In Fairfax County a new program is beginning with the aim of pairing volunteer drivers with seniors who need a lift.
In Northern Virginia, the number of older adults is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the population, according to Jennifer Kanarek, manager of the new program, called NV Rides, based at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax.
In 2013, Fairfax County forecast that those 65 and older would comprise nearly 15 percent of its residents by 2030, Kanarek said. It also predicted that between 2005 and 2030, the 70 and older age group would increase by 88 percent, while the nonsenior population would increase by only 10-15 percent. Today, an estimated 119,000 persons age 65 and older live in Fairfax County, and by 2020 there will be an estimated 158,000.
To complicate the area’s transportation situation, “people today will outlive their driving lifespan by almost a decade,” said Elinor Ginzler, a JCA senior staff member.
So how will all those seniors get around?
One available solution is riding with volunteer drivers. A number of Northern Virginia agencies are providing that service. NV Rides was created to make it more efficient. The NV Rides steering committee includes JCA, the JCC, Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, Giving Circle of HOPE, Volunteer Fairfax, Mt. Vernon at Home and Shepherd’s Center of McLean/Falls Church/Arlington, many of which have volunteer ride programs.
On July 1 the organization received a grant from the Fairfax Consolidated Community Funding Pool to purchase cloud-based software “that will make it easier for community-based groups to assign and post rides,” Ginzler said.
“The focus is on improving rides programs that already exist, not to start new programs,” Gamse said.
Added Kanarek, “The JCCNV is administering this community-wide initiative so that more nondriving older adults will be able to get where they need to go at no cost, so that they can age in place for as long as possible. Using a coordinated hub approach, this program will serve as a model of practices for effective transportation.”
Ginzler said many volunteer ride programs match rider and driver using Post-it notes on a desk. The RideScheduler software that NV Rides allows drivers to accept a ride with a click. The system generates route maps and sends drivers reminders of the upcoming appointment.
Seniors who don’t use a computer can call the coordinator, who will enter the information into the system. And drivers with limited computer fluency can receive automated reminders by phone or email.
NV Rides is modeled on a program in Montgomery County. Village Rides is funded by a federal grant through the Washington Council of Governments.
NV Rides’ organizers hope to launch their first ride by the end of November.
The grant for NV Rides is for two years with the “probability and not promised for year two,” Gamse said. “Fairfax allows you to reapply, but at some point we will hit a hard barrier. The real challenge for us is finding philanthropic support for transportation. The need is never fulfilled.” n