However, today’s technology offers a way to help older adults maintain their ability to come and go on their own schedule. All you need is a smartphone, plus perhaps a teenage grandchild to install the app for a ride-sharing service.
If you live in a large US city with excellent mass transit or in many places in Europe that have superb rail systems, giving up a driver’s license doesn’t mean giving up your independence. Actually owning a car and driving in such places can be inefficient, expensive, and impractical. But in smaller US cities and towns, public transportation is sparse to nonexistent. Losing your ability to drive means losing the ability to live life on your terms. You become dependent on the graciousness and availability of others to shop, eat out, or visit friends or loved ones.
In my town of around 115,000, for example, our city bus service operates six daytime-only routes along major thoroughfares. These are very useful for school kids but of less value for seniors.
Calling a taxi is possible. But with only three small companies, pick-ups often need to be scheduled well in advance. This isn’t much help if you need to make a quick trip to the store before you can start dinner.
This is where a smartphone and ride-sharing apps come in. So far Rapid City has Lyft only, but both Uber and Lyft are increasingly available in small cities. The convenience and cost of these ride sharing services has changed the way I travel in most cities. No more standing in lines to get a cab, fumbling around to find a phone number, or waiting for 15, 30, or 45 minutes for a pick-up.
Summoning a ride with Uber or Lyft can be as easy as three touches on a smartphone. Drivers will find you via the GPS system built into your phone. A usual wait for a ride is about 5-10 minutes, and the cost is about half that of a cab. Plus the charges are handled online, so there is no exchange of cash or credit card when you reach your destination.
Imagine how the availability of this service might change life for a senior who can no longer drive. No more being dependent on friends and family to get around. No need to plan hours or days in advance when you need to be picked up. You just take out your phone, touch the app and put in where you want to go. You will then see the number of minutes away a driver is and what the cost of the ride will be. If that’s all agreeable to you, hit confirm and you are ready to go.
Ride sharing services can be helpful, not just for seniors, but also for young adults. Neither Uber or Lyft permit unaccompanied minors to use their services, but they can serve as a safety net for those over 18. If someone has been drinking, needs to leave an uncomfortable situation, or has car trouble, Uber or Lyft can fill in if parents or friends are not available.
I love my smartphone. It has changed the way I do many everyday things like shopping, reading, communicating, and traveling. As I slide into senior citizen status, I can see even more benefits. Innovations in technology that allow us to easily order groceries, summon rides, call for help, and stay in touch with family can help the elderly maintain their independence as long as possible.