In an earlier post, How Uber might actually encourage walking among aging boomers, I noted:
The TNCs [Uber and Lyft] are different from taxis, and they could well make a big difference in the lives of people who can’t or don’t want to drive anymore. One can even envision a subset of drivers who specialize in seniors in the suburbs, perhaps retired people themselves who know their clientele and can use the extra money. Goodness knows, it’s a growing market.
It turns out that this is already happening. Elizabeth Olson writes in the New York Times about how older drivers are supplementing their retirement income by becoming drivers for Uber. As always, there are those who think it’s great and those who hate the idea:
Some drivers say it is a great chance to be independent and earn extra cash on their own schedule. But others, including some drivers, say it is exploitation of older people who work as independent contractors, without any benefits, because their age means they have a harder time finding full-time employment.
In fact, where I have expressed serious doubts about Uber and the so-called sharing economy, siding with those who call it “disaster capitalism” and worse, in this case I do not think it's exploitation. There are very few opportunities for seniors to work, especially in jobs where they can choose their own hours. Many are very good drivers and have been around the block enough to be extra careful.
It also gets them out of the house or apartment and gives them something to do; I know an architect who does a lot of work in cottage country; he put up a notice in the local grocery looking for drivers and now has a team that drives him to the country while he sits in the backseat working. They are happy to get out and see the country and he doesn’t lose any productive time.
Uber has found that older drivers are good for their business too; they have better driving records and fewer accidents. Uber has even teamed up with AARP to solicit drivers. According to the Times, the drivers like the money, the flexibility, and the adventure. One New Jersey woman explains:
I meet businessmen, college kids on their way out for the night, folks going to parties, pretty much the whole range. You can drive as much or as little as you like. If the weather’s bad or you have a doctor’s appointment, you just don’t turn on the app.
Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, isn’t sure if the so-called sharing economy is a good or a bad thing, but he does notice that they are shaking things up, writing in the Big Think:
Services like Uber, Lyft, and their lesser-known cousins may or may not be improving the world. But they are likely laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s transportation systems, and that may well make life better for all sorts of people—especially older adults—down the road.
He notes that hanging up the keys can be a difficult thing for older people, especially if they live in the suburbs or rural areas where there is lousy public transit.
Now, with the advent of Uber et al., that may be changing. For older mobility, Uber improves on cabs in a few critical ways—loved ones can track Uber cars’ progress, for instance—and other, smaller services go even further. Lift Hero claims to match older passengers with drivers trained in the health professions. The (inauspiciously named) SilverRide does something similar.
Lift Hero is a really interesting idea; Fast Company calls it Uber for the elderly but it’s much more than that. The drivers are often students studying to be doctors or other kind of health professionals, have first aid certification and get special training. It’s founder, Jay Connolly, explains:
“It [provides] that extra level of trust,” Connolly says. “A taxi driver is still an unknown quantity and actually taxi drivers often avoid driving the elderly, because they know sometimes it will take a little longer.” As well as getting seniors to where they need to go, the drivers look to engage with their passengers, help them with shopping, and accompany them for meals.
Unfortunately, these services are expensive; Lift Hero is $35 per hour and the so-called SilverRide is really platinum at $ 85 per ride. Most seniors cannot afford this; even those who do have money are pretty parsimonious about it.
Ultimately we are back where we started with the sharing economy; we have poor seniors who can still drive chauffeuring the wealthier ones who can afford to be driven, with everyone else stuck where they are.
Which is why the real answer is to live in walkable communities or have access to good public transit, both of which are in short supply in America today.