TECHNOLOGY THROUGH OUR EYES: The ins and outs of Uber, Lyft and other new transportation methods by Gary M. Kaye, LOL contributing writer, CCO, www.tech50plus.com

For many seniors, driving is becoming increasingly problematic. In some cases, it’s a matter of slowing reflexes. Other times, it’s because of poor night vision. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of confidence. But giving up a car has long meant giving up freedom and mobility. In more and more communities, it’s becoming less of an issue as ride sharing services, primarily Uber and Lyft, expand their reach into senior communities.
These 70, 80 and 90-plus-year-old seniors are embracing smartphone apps, especially when it comes to their newfound freedom of transportation, due to services like Lyft, etc. While the active retirement community offers transportation services, some residents want greater control and ability to decide when and where they want to go on their own schedules. Popular among residents aside from Uber and Lyft is assistance from the telephone service GoGoGrandparent, which bridges the gap between the senior customer and the app service.
The concierge at Palace Coral Gables will help a resident set up an app. For those who don’t have or are not comfortable with smartphones, GoGoGrandparent is a telephone service that can be set up by an adult child or caretaker. The service will inform the responsible party about the name of the driver, the arrival time, and answer any questions along the way. The account can be set up so the touch of a button on a landline phone can send the car to the senior’s home. For the return trip, dialing that service number and hitting “2” will send a car to what had been the drop-off location.
Residents at Palace Coral Gables are using Uber and Lyft for grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments, and almost anything they would have normally done with their own cars. It’s an affordable option and helps contribute to their independence. And it means they don’t have to rely on family, friends or the community’s transportation.
According to the management at Palace, the more they use these apps, the more comfortable they become. Other benefits include the Fare Estimation app so they’ll know in advance the cost of each trip. They don’t have to worry about a driver taking a circuitous route to raise the cost of a fare. There is also the Split Fare option, so they can take advantage of lower fares if they choose to share the ride and cost with a friend.
The Palace staff helped 80-year-old Hugo Carvajal set up the Uber app; because he is a former engineer, he got the hang of it easily. Usually, he uses Uber services once a week to visit his sister and friends, or for a doctor’s visit or even a concert. It actually offers him the freedom to attend evening events since he is unable to drive at night. He’s been using the service for about six months.
“It gives me the freedom to go anywhere and it’s so great,” he says. “I have as much freedom as using a car. I’ve had no problems and used it to go as far as West Palm Beach and west Broward County. The drivers are very nice and the price is economical. I feel very peaceful using the service, and it helps me from getting lost or fighting traffic. No cash is involved which is helpful.”
He still owns a car, but is looking to sell it. As for self-driving cars, he says it’s something he’d consider.
“I’d give it a try, and as a retired engineer who worked in the automobile industry; I think I would love to try it.”
He says he most commonly uses the service about once a week. “I also use the Uber service when I invite people to visit me at The Palace.”
96-year-old Harriet Gerson got help from her granddaughter to set up the Lyft app for her, and now she uses it four to five times a week. She’s been using Lyft for about eight months and says the drivers are very helpful. Since she needs to use a walker, they always make sure she to drop her off right at the front door. She relies on The Palace’s transportation to take her shopping to Dadeland, Merrick Park and other shopping venues.

AND NEXT, THE SELF-DRIVING CAR
Waiting just around the bend are Uber and Lyft’s efforts to create the self-driving car. There’s plenty at stake. When they get it right, consumers will be able to order a car to their doorsteps to take them on the same errands that Uber and Lyft will perform today. Eventually, Uber and Lyft know it will save them the costs of the drivers. But don’t expect this to all happen next month or even next year. Both companies have trials underway to test out the concept. Even though the experimental cars are doing the driving, there’s still someone along to make sure everything goes as planned.
Malcom Glenn is director of strategic partnerships for Uber. He says the first self-driving Ubers will be using pre-planned routes. That way the programmers can learn traffic patterns, potential obstacles, even construction patterns and potholes. In other words, the route would be specifically planned to avoid bumps in the road. Glenn calls it the first step toward self-driving cars. Only after that technology is proven will we see the next step: routes that can be planned on an as-needed basis
To be honest there are still a lot of impediments to making Uber and Lyft a ubiquitous solution for senior mobility, and some of those may not be solved by self-driving cars. Accessibility is a big one. Neither Uber nor Lyft is well-equipped with enough accessible vehicle to accommodate the needs of seniors with disabilities, whether it be a wheelchair, or low vision, or even poor hearing. In order for these services to really take off, they’re going to need the ability to get folks out the door, or in the door, at their destination. In the short run that may be a lot more of a practical problem than the advent of self-driving cars.