A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the vital role that transportation options play in what we at AARP call “livable communities” – great places to live for people of all ages. Being able to get around is critical to earn a living, raise a family, contribute and stay connected to your community and enjoy life. And, having alternatives to getting behind the wheel of your own car is particularly important for older adults who want to stay in their homes and communities as they age.
The good news is that mobility solutions are evolving by leaps and bounds, driven by technological innovation and the sharing economy.
Just think . . . Uber went live in San Francisco a little over eight years ago. Today, the company’s name is used as a verb and a noun in casual conversation; there is stiff competition for customers and drivers from Lyft and other services, and, the sharing economy model now extends to cars, bikes and electric scooters in cities across the country.
These two mobility innovations – technology facilitated ride-sharing and transportation as something that you borrow, share or order up like a service – are the subject of two AARP pilot projects in three locations – Ft. Worth, Indianapolis and Columbia, South Carolina.
While awareness of ride-sharing apps is fairly high among AARP members and our broader constituency, older Americans are less familiar with how the services actually work, and they have concerns about personal and financial safety. So, our Ride@50+ workshop is testing ways to get older adults up to speed about using services like Uber or Lyft. We are conducting hands-on educational sessions in Ft. Worth and Indianapolis, providing free rides to get folks started, and evaluating the use of those rides and benefits to the participants in terms of increased social connections and ease of mobility.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, South Carolina, we are preparing to test a solution that connects older adults with a range of mobility options so they can choose the best way to get where they want to go for any particular trip. Everything from public transit to ride-sharing companies, bike sharing and volunteer drivers can be accessed through this one-stop-shop that positions mobility as a service rather than something you own and operate like a personal car.
All of this is a precursor to the game changer that’s on the horizon – autonomous vehicles (AVs). While auto and tech companies race to be the first-mover in the AV marketplace, and, the public sector gets its arms around testing protocols and regulatory frameworks, AARP’s pilots and SmartDriverTEK program are helping bridge a significant knowledge and trust gap. If older drivers are more comfortable with technology that is already available – whether it’s an app on their phones or a safety feature in their cars – they’ll be more comfortable with AVs as a logical next step.
There is a lot “coming down the pike” that can make a real difference helping older adults stay engaged and active in their communities and get where they need to go. And, AARP is helping make sure they’re ready to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.