You have got to love the name of this company: GoGoGrandparent. This is the agency Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard has engaged in a pilot, as one way to deal with the challenge of offering alternative transportation options for older adults here on the Island.
We have nearly 6,000 older adults on the Vineyard, and not everyone can drive, whether for medical reasons or because they no longer have a license. But now older vaccinated — and even “boostered” — individuals want to get out and interact with others, whether that’s going to physical therapy, a doctor’s appointment, or running errands. Likewise, Cindy Trish, HAMV’s executive director, says, “We believe there is renewed interest with the vaccine and booster with our older adults wanting to contribute by volunteering, and many will need transportation to do so.”
Trish emphasizes that for older adults, alternative transportation is not a convenience issue, it’s a necessity. HAMV convened a coalition of 15 organizations here that serve seniors in early 2021. After completing an Islandwide survey with older adults, the initial study discovered that older adults need on-demand, on-Island transportation that is available every day, at night, and can be taken directly to and from a specific location. Currently, the VTA’s regular buses and the Lift, Lyft, Uber, and taxis all have drawbacks, be it a limited schedule, need for application, cost, or requiring the use of an app. It’s additionally challenging for those folks who require physical assistance getting in and out of the vehicle, let alone if they need help with storing equipment like walkers, canes, or transport wheelchairs during the ride.
HAMV discovered GoGoGrandparent, which got its catchy name from its founders, who started the company when their grandmother said she was afraid of driving at night. “They recognized that her downloading an app and using Uber or Lyft when she wanted to go out to dinner wasn’t a viable solution,” Trish explains.
With GoGoGrandparent, all you need to do is make a single call, and a live operator trained specifically to work with older adults takes the information and arranges your ride. The company also offers the option of “by-the-minute” updates texted to loved ones, and the ability to set up automatic rides for fixed medical appointments. You can also bring along someone to help at no additional charge. Operators are available 24/7 to schedule rides in advance and answer questions.
The company’s drivers come through Lyft and Uber. GoGoGrandparent monitors the drivers in real time, making sure they are using the fastest route and, of course, that riders are safe. The company’s enterprise support specialist, Danny Angel says, “When someone requests a trip, we filter out drivers who aren’t interested or able to work with our older or disabled clients, as well as vehicle types that are known to cause older adults problems.”
Clients can only schedule the first stop, but can ask the driver if they’ll take them on to another one or more. Most of the time, it works out fine, but it seems to leave participants a little bit anxious.
So far, the pilot program has some 500 miles under its belt. On the plus side, HAMV has found that participants feel that drivers are courteous and respectful. They’re appreciative of costs being covered, and feel it’s a viable solution to public transportation when that option can’t work.
There are a few glitches, though. So far, you can’t schedule multiple stops without the driver’s agreement. There can be long wait times for an operator to find a ride, and this can make it hard to get home if you are already out, and there have been some inconsistencies in the quality of the operators’ knowledge and communication skills. One participant told HAMV that it feels like they aren’t quite ready for “prime time” yet. However, another reported that it was good to have this option, and someone else offered, “I love it. It’s just what the Island needs.”
The great news is that HAMV is searching for new participants, who pay nothing, thanks to a grant provided by Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, for the service to help determine whether GoGoGrandparent is ultimately viable long-term. Trish says, “It isn’t the only solution we’re exploring … it’s just one of a number to build our knowledge base about what will work for our older adults.” The coalition currently is looking at what other pilot programs are on-Island, which includes a taxi program at Island Elderly Housing, a fixed route/multiple rider program under development at the Anchors, and a pickup program to and from the Center for Living. And there is a microtransit program offered by the VTA. These models are a mix of paid and volunteer drivers, vehicles from the VTA, paid coordinators, and the like. Trish also acknowledges that the single-vehicle mode isn’t environmentally friendly, so the search is a continual journey, and one HAMV is taking with others.
“We have been wrestling with alternative transportation methods for older adults for 30 years–plus on this Island,” Trish adds. “There are some fundamental challenges we are facing on how to create alternative forms of transportation, both on-Island and off-. In looking at who owns transportation for our older adults … I clearly see it as a village.”
For more information, contact Cindy Trish at 508-693-7900, ext. 455.