Want to improve older Americans' lives? Try giving them free Lyft rides

This research underscores how ride-sharing platforms can provide a significant benefit to the well-being of older adults.

  • By Meera Jagannathan,
  • MarketWatch
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It’s like Uber (UBER), but for seniors.

Providing chronically ill older people with rideshare access may help them make it to doctor appointments, decrease their social isolation and boost their quality of life, a new study published in the Journal of mHealth found.

“Access to transportation is more than getting from point A to point B; it encompasses multiple human facets of life,” principal investigator Leslie Saxon, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “This research underscores how ride-sharing platforms can provide a significant benefit to the well-being of older adults, empowering them to become active participants in their own care as well as in other areas of their lives.”

Researchers provided free, unlimited Lyft (LYFT) rides to 150 older adults with chronic disease living in and around Los Angeles County. Participants received personalized training on how to use the app, while those without smartphone access could use a call-in service. Ninety-three percent of participants used Lyft, and 86% used the mobile app for ride-hailing.

Medical appointments made up almost a third of the seniors’ destinations, the study found; they also used the free rides for errands, social visits, exercise classes and entertainment. Nine in 10 reported having an improved quality of daily life, and nearly two in three said they had increased social visits.

What’s more, a majority chose to use the app version of Lyft for roughly one ride per day, despite “being novice app users and having reported that before the study the main use of their smartphones was geared toward email and web browsing,” the authors wrote.

“This is a hugely important finding exemplifying that older populations are willing and capable of adopting new technologies, contrary to previous reports that showed low adoption of networked transportation,” they said.

The average monthly rideshare cost per participant was $500, according to the study, which was supported by the AARP Foundation and UnitedHealthcare. Researchers noted that cost was the main barrier keeping a majority of seniors from continuing to use rideshares after the study wrapped up.

Lyft partners with senior-living providers across the U.S. and works with tech companies like GreatCall and GoGoGrandparent to boost seniors’ mobility, spokesperson Kate Cory told MarketWatch. The ride-hailing company is working with Medicare Advantage plans and aims to partner with the majority of those plans by next year, she added.

Lyft earlier this year also pledged an annual $50 million or 1% of profits, whichever is greater, “to continue improving city life through grass-roots transportation initiatives,” including free and discounted rides for low-income seniors and medical patients, Cory said.

“The outcomes published in this study demonstrate how Lyft measurably contributes to seniors’ quality of life and health by eliminating transportation barriers — enabling seniors to better access medical care, the gym, friends, family and more,” Megan Callahan, Lyft’s vice president of health care, said in a statement sent to MarketWatch. “We’ve also seen that participants are willing to adopt novel technology solutions to access increased mobility.”

Lyft competitor Uber has touted its Uber Central platform, through which organizations can request and pay for rides without travelers having to sign up for an Uber account, as a tool for senior centers. Uber spokesperson Steve Imm also highlighted the company’s efforts to increase accessibility for riders with disabilities and assistance needs, as well as to expand access to wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Dan Trigub, the head of the company’s health-care arm, Uber Health, added in a statement that it was “continuing to invest and find new ways to deliver more mobility to older adults and help reduce social isolation.” “Ridesharing is a cost-effective and convenient solution, and Uber is working with a large number of elder-care organizations and third parties across the country to cover the cost of rides,” he said.

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