Volunteer driver Ellie Gordon, left, drops off Rosalie Denny at her Shadyside home after driving her from a medical appointment at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Oakland.
By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
While she is used to taking buses to get around Pittsburgh, Linda Klapak of Hazelwood likes to have someone drive her when she visits somewhere new. So Ms. Klapak, who is legally blind, has turned to the volunteer ride share service AgeWell Rides.
“The people have been extremely helpful,” Ms. Klapak said of AgeWell’s drivers. One driver who took her to the grocery store even helped her shop: “She helped me find items, and read expiration dates.”
AgeWell Rides is an initiative of Jewish Family & Children‘s Services and volunteer organization Repair the World: Pittsburgh. The service, which is about 2 months old, matches volunteer drivers using their own cars with senior citizens, mainly within the city limits, who are in need of transportation.
“We have many senior clients, and we were noticing that transportation challenges were a big concern,” said Jordan Golin, COO and director of elder care services at Jewish Family & Children's Services. “Despite all the options available, there still exists this challenge, because not all the options work all the time.”
While there are similarities with ride share companies like Lyft and Uber X in which drivers use their own cars to pick up customers, AgeWell drivers are volunteers who receive no monetary compensation. The costs of the program, which spokeswoman Elizabeth Waickman said are still being evaluated, are being absorbed by the JF&CS using a portion of the funding it receives from the United Way.
“Many of our senior clients are on fixed incomes, and while the fees are not terribly high for some of the other options, it can be significant for them,” Mr. Golin said.
Ms. Klapak said she has used Access, the paratransit service offered by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, but sometimes finds it difficult to coordinate with Access’ time constraints.
And she said sharing a van with several other people, as she usually did with Access, can be less than ideal if she has frozen groceries and she’s the last stop.
Ellen Leger, eldercare administrator for AgeWell Pittsburgh at Jewish Family & Community Services, coordinates the ride share program. She said the drivers are all screened, undergoing a criminal background check and a 10-year driving history check. All drivers and riders sign legal waivers in the event of a fender-bender, Ms. Leger said.
Drivers undergo a training program before their first trip. AgeWell provides secondary insurance on top of the driver’s personal policy.
“My gold standard is, ‘Would I send this person to my own mom’s house?’ ” Ms. Leger said.
The program now has 27 drivers and 60 registered riders.
Ms. Leger said that since drivers are using their own cars, AgeWell isn’t equipped to handle passengers with cognitive disabilities or those in wheelchairs. And she stressed that even though it is affiliated with Jewish Family & Children’s Service, AgeWell Rides is non-sectarian.
Ellie Gordon has been volunteering for AgeWell for about a month. She heard about it at a networking event for Repair the World, which encourages Jewish youth to seek volunteer opportunities.
“It’s short rides, getting seniors to the grocery store, and it’s been just wonderful,” Ms. Gordon said. “I’ve met some great people.”
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