Ride-Sharing Apps Catch On with Seniors

Residents are taking a page from Millennials’ playbook with technology to help get around.

By Janis Ehlers 

Many Millennials are deferring getting a driver’s license and opting out of car ownership.

Most seniors have enjoyed driving since the first moment they could get their hands on the family car.

What do these very diverse groups have in common? More and more of them are turning to on-demand ridesharing (think Uber and Lyft) to get around.

If you’re having trouble picturing one of your seniors housing residents downloading an app and then using it to arrange for a ride, let me explain why I think you might want to encourage this in your community.

Improved independence

Seniors crave flexibility and independence, and on-demand ridesharing provides it. Although most communities provide transportation to routine destinations (grocery store, bank, medical center, church, synagogue, etc.), many seniors would prefer to go where, when and with whom they want.

The ability to easily arrange for an inexpensive ride provides that longed-for freedom. It eliminates fear of fighting traffic, getting lost, finding a parking place and needing to walk a long distance after parking. There is no need to plan in advance. Payment is easy. Nighttime driving is no longer an issue. There is even some pride in being, relatively speaking, an early adopter of the technology.

On-demand ridesharing drivers get high marks from residents and staff at The Palace at Coral Gables in Florida. “The drivers are empathetic with the seniors, help them with walkers, and make sure they are careful getting in and out of the cars,” says Jonathan Gomez, resident relations manager at the community. 

Extended family benefits

“Dad, I think it’s time you give up your car.” That’s a conversation many adult children will tell you they dread.

It’s worrisome when an aged parent continues to drive when it’s no longer safe, yet it’s painful to see a loved one’s loss of independence.

On-demand ridesharing can ease that transition. The flexibility is tremendous, while costs can be offset by selling the vehicle and eliminating insurance and maintenance expenses.

There are other benefits to the extended family: A senior parent can arrive independently for a special family celebration. Grandma and Grandpa can easily attend a school program or a sports event.

GoGoGrandparents is an innovative online service that makes on-demand ridesharing even more attractive. A senior can make a phone call to order a ride and live operators are available 24/7 to offer help.

GoGo operators communicate, screen and monitor rides to make sure every ride completes safely and successfully. Family members receive by-the-minute text updates such as “Betty just requested a ride,” “Betty’s driver Justin will be there in 5 minutes,” and “Betty made it!” so they know when a loved one is out and about.

Learning to think differently

The Palace at Coral Gables doesn’t view on-demand ride-sharing as competition for its transportation services, but rather as a way to supplement them.

“We are happy to teach residents the basics and help them set up their accounts,” says concierge Ashely Brosky. “But once they get it, they do it on their own. They may call me once or twice to walk them through it again, but they are pretty adventuresome.”

In many ways, encouraging residents to use their smartphone skills to arrange a ride is like encouraging them to embrace other new endeavors, such as a lecture series, a new hobby or a fitness pursuit. There’s a sense of enhanced vitality for the resident that permeates and reflects well on the entire community.

There might even be some unexpected benefits to the community. Hugo Carvajal, age 80 and a resident of The Palace at Coral Gables, uses the on-demand service to invite friends to visit him at The Palace. Perhaps there are future residents for the community among those visitors.

Promoting the service

If you’re ready to encourage on-demand ridesharing to your residents, here are a few tips:

  • Identify a resource, such as your concierge, to help residents download an app and get started. If your community offers classes on using smartphones and tablets, add this to the curriculum.
  • Promote the idea to extended family as well as to residents.
  • Identify a resource that residents can call if they experience any kind of problem or issue while out. Make this resource available 24/7.
  • Encourage residents to ride together on a trip or two until they’re comfortable with the process.
  • Coach residents to get specific details on where to meet a ride for pick-up in a crowded area like a theater or concert hall.
  • Prepare residents that, in some areas, drivers might speak limited English.
  • Recognize that there are some trips that don’t lend themselves to on-demand ridesharing. A trip with multiple stops is not a good fit for one of these services.

When it comes to on-demand ridesharing, your first instinct might be to think, “I’m not sure our residents would do that.” I encourage you to reconsider.

We’ve seen it time and again in other aspects of their lives: A senior decides to try something new and the result is the kind of vibrancy and renewal we all desire for our residents. This creates an experience that makes the world more accessible to those in your community.


Janis R. Ehlers is president of The Ehlers Group, a marketing and communications company specializing in senior living communities across the country. She is author of the book, “Marketing Seniors Housing,” a guide to marketing strategies relevant to today’s retirement communities.