The Lyft and Uber apps can dispatch wheelchair-accessible vans in several cities. In 20 cities, Uber Assist trains drivers to provide extra help for people using canes, walkers and folding wheelchairs, though riders must still be able to enter and leave the car on their own.
In the Bay Area, though, frail older people can get “door-through-door” services from 12-year-old SilverRide. Its trained, vetted drivers escort riders out of their homes, help them transfer into and out of the car, and then accompany them to their specific destinations.
“Door-to-door takes you to the entrance to the hospital,” said Jeff Maltz, a co-founder of the service. “We’ll take you all the way to the doctor’s office.” SilverRide has pilot programs underway in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Maltz said, and will expand further next year.
Another smaller player, GoGo Grandparent, piggybacks on Uber and Lyft, hiring operators who can take riders’ requests on standard telephones, via push button menu, or by voice. The operators arrange the trip, charging 27 cents a minute over the ride-hailing fees. (Of course, family members can dispatch Uber and Lyft to pick up their older relatives as well, for no extra cost.)
That raises a key question: Will ride-hailing be too expensive for many seniors? In the U.S.C. study, the typical trip cost $22; the cost per month, had users actually paid it, averaged $500. After the study, about a fifth of riders said they wouldn’t continue using ride-hailing, mostly because of cost.
Some Medicare Advantage programs now cover rides to medical appointments and pharmacies; Lyft expects to partner with most Advantage plans by next year, Mr. Renwick said. But most older Americans still use traditional Medicare, which doesn’t cover such transportation.
Experts like Alexandre Bayen, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, also worry about ride-hailing outside metropolitan areas. “The rural population might not see this for a long time,” he said. He envisions a combination of new public policies, subsidies and public-private partnerships to make ride-hailing broadly available.