West Valley Seniors to get the RYDEs They Need

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        
October 18, 2017


Saratoga resident Marilyn M. White gave up driving in July because “at age 92 going on 93” she knew it was time to get off the highway. “I had a good driving record, and it was my choice, but now I’m really aware of the need for someone to pick me up to go to the doctor’s office or grocery shopping.”

White, and seniors like her, won’t have to wait much longer for a ride. The West Valley’s new transportation program – Reach Your Destination Easily (RYDE) – will launch October 21, providing affordable curb-to-curb transportation for residents over age 55. No bus schedules to negotiate, no ride sharing apps or surge pricing to figure out.

“I’m champing at the bit, lining up all my doctor appointments. I haven’t been to the dentist in a couple of years,” said White, a longtime volunteer for the city’s community and civic organizations who has lived in her Saratoga home for 62 years. “A system to take seniors around is needed so much now. I think this kind of program will be the future. I sure as heck would be a volunteer driver if I was younger.”

Spearheaded by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and operated by two community-based nonprofits, the RYDE program began taking reservations on October 16. A formal launch and press conference will be held at the Saratoga Senior Health Fair on October 21.  A formal launch and press conference will be held at the Saratoga Senior Health Fair on October 21.

With just a simple phone call, ambulatory West Valley senior residents will be able to schedule rides within Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, Monte Sereno, and Los Gatos with trained and vetted RYDE drivers, priced on a sliding scale.

"We know we've got too many folks who are housebound, simply because they don't have transportation choices. It’s just not healthy,” Simitian said. “For both their physical and mental well-being, we want these folks up and about, out in the community – seeing their friends, having an opportunity to socialize, getting to their doctors appointments, playing an active role in local affairs.”

Josh Selo, executive director, West Valley Community Services (WVCS), which will operate RYDE for seniors in Cupertino and Campbell, agreed. “Seniors in our community who no longer feel comfortable driving or can’t drive are struggling with transportation. They often feel that they’ve lost their independence.”

Recent Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) budget cuts and curtailed bus routes have additionally impacted seniors, says Selo, whose organization provides basic services for homeless and low income residents in the West Valley: “It can take some of our clients three to four hours to get to our offices in Cupertino when coming from Los Gatos.”

Last year, a six-week taxi pilot program in Saratoga clearly established the need for better senior-focused transportation, and led to discussions between Simitian and West Valley mayors, city managers, and community leaders.

With nearly 43,000 residents over age 55 in the West Valley, “It was clear this was a wider issue across the region,” Simitian said. “Frankly there aren’t a lot of transportation options in the West Valley. The benefit of working with these local nonprofits is that they know their communities, they know the folks we’re trying to serve."

Earlier this year, Simitian confirmed commitment by all five cities to address the dire need for more transportation options for seniors living in the West Valley.

He also engaged VTA as a funding partner, and WVCS and the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council (SASCC) to lead development of a one-year pilot program and operate the service, with input from Santa Clara County Department of Aging and Adult Services.

"We involved two nonprofits. We included five different communities. We split the funding seven ways.  Everybody acknowledged there was a problem, and that a solution should be within our reach,” Simitian said. "This is one of those times when we can do so much more if everybody will just take a little piece of the project, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Preventing isolation is key for seniors, said Lisa Oakley, Board President of SASCC, which will operate RYDE in Saratoga, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno. “We have such a large population of seniors in Saratoga. As you get older, it’s harder to get around, and people feel like they become more of a burden. They need to be able to get out of their homes and into the community.”

As a model for RYDE, SASCC and WVCS looked to Door to Door, a ride service for seniors run by the Palo Alto based nonprofit, Avenidas.

Like the Avenidas program, which facilitates about 6,000 rides for Mid-Peninsula seniors annually, RYDE will rely largely on volunteer drivers. “We’re well on our way” to having the targeted pool of 20 drivers for each of the two service areas, said Oakley. “With Avenidas, once people started driving other folks, they loved it. Volunteers found they received so much enjoyment engaging with older adults as a driver.”

“This is something that’s very important to me,” said Saratoga City Councilmember and volunteer RYDE driver Manny Cappello. “It’s one way in which I can give back to a generation who has done so much for us. Whether they are Veterans, environmentalists, technical pioneers, loving mothers and fathers, they all have a story that I am looking forward to hearing along the RYDE.”

The $250,000, one-year RYDE pilot will support one paid on-site trip coordinator and two paid drivers for each operations center, open weekdays from 8am to 4pm. SASCC and WVCS will vet paid and volunteer drivers and require completion of an online training course focused on working with older adults with mobility and vision limitations.

Drivers will help with safety belts if needed, and caregivers or companions can accompany seniors at no additional charge. (However, RYDE drivers, who use their personal vehicles, cannot accommodate wheelchairs or motorized scooters.)

Unlike Avenidas, RYDE will not engage outside ride sharing services to fill scheduling gaps or provide same day service. Why? They’re not always intuitive or senior focused, said Cupertino Mayor Savita Vaidhyanathan.

“When I was campaigning, I heard from seniors who weren’t able to get where they wanted to go, and I asked, ‘How about Uber or Lyft?’ They didn’t know how to use smart phone technology,” Vaidhyanathan said.

“It’s important for seniors not comfortable with technology to be able to call a number and have a person at the other end listen to their concerns and book a ride for them. They need that human touch,” she added. “Also, many families aren’t comfortable when seniors are taking a ride in a car where they don’t know the driver. If you tell families and seniors that the driver will understand their concerns, they seem a lot more relaxed.”

Additionally, on demand ride sharing services are too expensive for many seniors, said Selo. “With surge time pricing, you’re never sure what you’ll have to pay. We have a fixed rate at all times, with significant discounts if you’re living in poverty.”

The standard fare for a four-mile ride one way will be $9, but an extremely low income resident ($23,450 annually for an individual), will receive a 90 percent discount, very low income ($39,100 annually) a 75 percent discount, and low income ($55,500 annually) a 50 percent discount. “That puts it in the range of someone unable to afford ride share services,” he said.

While the West Valley includes four of Silicon Valley’s most affluent zip codes, 22,000 residents are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line and eligible for WVCS services. RYDE administrators expect roughly 20 percent of the program participants to be eligible for ride subsidies.

RYDE program coordinators will also help seniors with trip planning outside the West Valley region, said Selo: “We can help someone think through the steps of how to get where they want to go. If it’s San Francisco, we can schedule you a RYDE to the Sunnyvale train station.”

While outside the boundaries of the five participating cities, the RYDE service area will include the Sunnyvale CalTrain Station, as well as several medical centers and hospitals in the region.

“Transportation is definitely one of the high needs with seniors. We receive multiple inquiries a week,” said Tina Wong-Erling, Senior Services Supervisor for the city of Campbell. “We’re excited to be part of this pilot project. So many seniors at some point give up driving because it’s the best decision for them and their family. A transit program for seniors without a disability closed last November, and this will fill that void.”

Simitian hopes to refine the RYDE model over time and adapt it to other parts of the county. “As our county ages,” he said, “the need is sure to grow."


What: A press conference to launch the RYDE program, with media availability and sign-ups for seniors.
Who: Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County Supervisor, District 5
            Mike Wasserman, Santa Clara County Supervisor, District 1
            Lisa Oakley, Board President, Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council
Where: Saratoga Area Senior Center, 19655 Allendale Ave, Saratoga
When: Saturday, October 21st at 11:00 am



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