Building on a resource developed with our partners at MassMobility that shares examples of Age- and Dementia Friendly transportation across the state, more approaches to improving transportation options are always emerging.
Here are a few such examples highlighted in the recent MassMobility newsletter:
Older adults on Cape Ann have a new option for transportation to access healthy food and physical activity: Cape Ann Seniors on the GO. A project of Cape Ann Mass in Motion, the service launched in Essex, Gloucester, and Manchester in October, and began operating in Rockport on November 5. It connects senior housing complexes to grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food pantries, and age-friendly walking locations. Cape Ann Seniors on the GO is a free service open to residents of senior housing in the four participating municipalities.
When Jennifer Donnelly began working as Cape Ann Mass in Motion’s Grant Coordinator in 2018, she soon realized that in order to improve health, she was going to have to address transportation and access barriers. She worked closely with the Age and Dementia Friendly Cape Ann initiative, which identified transportation as a top priority. Donnelly surveyed residents of the region’s senior housing facilities, and 60 percent of respondents said that free transportation would definitely help them access healthier food. In addition to the survey, she attended resident meetings in Gloucester and brought City Councilors with her to hear directly from the older adults.
Residents, housing authority staff, and city officials were supportive, so Donnelly pursued the idea. In May, she received an Efficiency and Regionalization grant to pilot a regional transportation service. Addison Gilbert Hospital and Beverly Hospital also pledged to help fund a pilot. To develop a strong service, Donnelly partnered with existing operators. The Cape Ann Transit Authority (CATA) operates the Gloucester and Rockport service. “CATA is excited to partner with Cape Ann Mass in Motion on their new initiative, Cape Ann Seniors on the GO! Transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities is a vital service within any community. CATA is looking forward to the success of this program,” shares CATA Administrator Felicia Webb. The Manchester Council on Aging (COA) operates the service in Essex and Manchester, building on the transportation they were already providing within town.
Donnelly expects the pilot will have benefits beyond nutrition, such as addressing isolation: “They’re riding the bus as a group, so there’s the opportunity to talk with friends and neighbors,” she explains. Gloucester and Rockport residents should call CATA to book rides, while Essex and Manchester residents should contact the Manchester COA. The current pilot is funded through June 2020.
CareRide – Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley/North Shore
When the area’s needs assessment found that transportation barriers were preventing older residents of the Merrimack Valley from accessing medical care, Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore (ESMV/NS) decided to do something for people not well served by existing options. They contracted with Circulation, a Massachusetts company that has created a healthcare-oriented platform for summoning trips on Uber, Lyft, or private providers. With funding from Lowell General Hospital, ESMV/NS launched CareRide as a six-month pilot in late June. While they originally hoped to provide 150 trips through the pilot, they have already doubled that, hitting 300 rides earlier this month.
The pilot serves older adults in Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, and Westford and is referral-based. Lowell General Hospital doctors and social workers, as well as staff of Councils on Aging, Senior Centers, and ESMV/NS can refer an individual to the program. Trips are subsidized, with riders paying $4 each way for local trips and $10-$20 for long-distance rides. Most rides are booked through Lyft, but CareRide’s digital platform also offers wheelchair-accessible vans.
Before booking a trip, the Program Coordinator talks to the individual to find out if any other options could help them, such as the MassHealth PT-1 program or public transit. If not, the Program Coordinator explains how CareRide works and books the ride for the consumer. “Our Program Coordinator is a strong asset to the program. She spends so much time with our consumers, going through all the options and making sure they know how to use the service. The human connection is so important,” explains Martha Leen, Community Programs Director at ESMV/NS.
Brookline is currently piloting subsidized Lyft rides for customers of the town’s taxi voucher program, thanks to funding from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Lyft, which selected Brookline as one of only three communities across the country to receive a grant. Brookline has traditionally offered half-off taxi rides to low- and moderate-income residents over age 60. However, taxi availability has dropped precipitously: five years ago, approximately 130 taxis served Brookline, but today, that number is only 15 – leaving a gap in service. This pilot is one of a number of ways the town is looking at filling that gap. All participants – including those enrolled in the pilot – still have access to the traditional taxi voucher program.
Before launching the pilot, TRIPPS – the Brookline COA’s transportation initiative – surveyed taxi voucher participants to find out if they would be interested in using Lyft, if they had access to the smartphone technology and payment options that Lyft uses, and what other forms of transportation they used. TRIPPS offered a coupon book to anyone who returned the survey, which yielded a high response rate of 62 percent. Through the survey, TRIPPS identified 25 participants who were interested and had access to a smartphone, and invited them to enroll. Pilot participants pay $2 for a Lyft ride, and then receive a $10 subsidy on four trips per month.
The pilot launched in September with training. Brookline’s TRIPPS program offered a group session on how to use Lyft, and then provided ongoing support to help participants practice using the app. This support led to a higher-than-usual usage rate, with more participants actually using Lyft than in other pilots. “Training is key,” notes TRIPPS Specialist Maria Foster. “It requires time and effort, but people can learn how to do it – and you can use volunteers to train and support them.”
TRIPPS is also using this grant to support its ride-hailing workshops. Councils on Aging and Senior Centers that are interested in having TRIPPS deliver its workshop on how to use Uber and Lyft can contact TRIPPS to request a free, two-part workshop for older adults.