A few years ago, a modest pilot project started in Saratoga with local taxis helping older residents get around. No bus schedules to negotiate, no ride sharing apps or surge time pricing to figure out. Just a trustworthy lift to the grocery store, the doctor, the library, for a modest fee.
The response was so positive that the folks who cooked up the six-week trial – Saratoga city officials and the leadership at the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council (SASCC) – reached out to me and asked if Santa Clara County could help keep the program going.
What made sense was to make it bigger and serve even more of the West Valley’s growing senior population. In 2017, the Reach Your Destination Easily, or RYDE, program for Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno’s older residents launched with support from the five cities, the County, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).
RYDE has been a tremendous success. I’m particularly pleased that funding awarded this year by VTA’s Measure B grants for innovative transit models now allows RYDE to expand into parts of San Jose and Morgan Hill.
I’ve often been asked why senior-focused transportation is on my priority list. The answer, in part, is personal. One day several years ago, when I was serving in the California State Senate, I was on my weekly commute home from Sacramento and checked in with my father, who also lived in Palo Alto.
His week hadn’t been so good: “I had to give up my keys” – meaning to the car. Secretly I thought, “Oh, thank goodness,” because it was past time. Then it dawned on me: how was my father, then in his mid-80s, getting around town?
Hitchhiking. Yes, really.
Cabs were too expensive. Paratransit, he thought was for “old people” (which he didn’t feel applied to him). Despite my protests, he continued to stick out his thumb. Fortunately, there were a lot of very kind people who made it a neighborhood project. It was a lovely expression of community, but a little bit catch-as-catch-can for my comfort.
RYDE is what we could have and should have had to serve the seniors in our communities because it offers more than just a “ride.”
Fees are based on income as well as distance. Trained and vetted drivers help with safety belts, if needed, and caregivers or companions may accompany seniors at no additional charge. RYDE staff also help seniors connect to transit centers and support larger trip planning outside the RYDE service areas.
As we know all too well from the pandemic, seniors are particularly vulnerable to isolation. As we look to a future where people can more safely socialize, we want to make sure no community member is left housebound due to lack of transportation.
I am so glad that two great nonprofits, West Valley Community Services and SASCC stepped up four years ago to provide this service, and that we’re able to expand the program well beyond the boundaries of the original five cities. My thanks to Saratoga for literally getting the program rolling.
And for those of you age 65 and up, I hope you get the opportunity to catch a RYDE the next time you need it (www.rydescc.org).
This article was originally published in the Saratoga Spotlight on July 2021.