Last month I celebrated my grandmother’s 99th birthday with our family. She’s in great shape and I’m amazed by her energy. In fact, we had some wine after dinner and she was the last one to leave the couch and wanted to keep talking through the night. I’m amazed, at that age, how little help she needs from others - except when it comes to driving. Like many at that age, she’s at a point in her life where she requires help getting to where she needs to go.
Uber and Lyft are new services that have emerged in the past few years and offer the convenience of a ride at the push of a button on your smartphone. However, these services don’t work for older adults like my grandmother. Not only does she not have a smartphone but the lack of patience and assistance they provide make them unrealistic options. My grandmother needs help getting to and from the car and help folding up a walker and putting it in the trunk. Uber and Lyft drivers get paid by the mile and many of them don’t want to get out of the car and help someone from their door to the car.
I started the company Onward to address exactly this problem. We help older adults, or anyone who needs assistance, get to and from their daily activities, appointments, lunches and more. To accomplish this we’ve done a few things differently than traditional taxis and other ridesharing companies.
First, we’ve hired fantastic drivers. We interview and vet each one to ensure they are compassionate and caring individuals. They’re also capable, as each has a CPR and First Aid certification. We only hire drivers that we’d feel comfortable being responsible for our own family members. We also allow the rider to request the same driver for each trip so the two can establish a relationship and feel more comfortable seeing a familiar face.
Second, we’ve made sure that our drivers are able to provide extra assistance on a ride. They are willing, capable and eager to get out of the car to help out - whether that’s an arm for support or carrying groceries or a heavy purse. To allow for this extra help, we charge by the hour instead of by the mile as much of the work our drivers do are outside the vehicle. This pricing structure also allows for rides to be roundtrip so we can pick up a rider, take them to an appointment, wait with them and then bring them home again.
Third, we’ve built a system that captures all of the specific needs of each rider. We ask for the level of cognitive, vision/hearing and mobility for each rider so we can tailor the care we provide on each trip. We capture this so the person who orders the ride can feel confident that their loved one will be in good hands and that the driver is well informed and prepared to take great care.
Finally, we’ve built a system that requires none of our riders or customers use any technology at all. All you need to do to use us is call us, no smartphone required. We’ll answer the phone 7 days a week to help coordinate or adjust a ride. But don’t worry, if you love technology, we’ve got that option too, including the ability to get notifications and stay informed about a rider for whom you’ve booked a ride.
As of December 3rd, my grandmother is 99 years old. Even at that age she wants to go to birthday parties and social events with her friends - just like we all do. Now with a service like Onward, she can make every one of them.