As cities mature and the population ages, the classic use of cars as the main way to get places is no longer an option for many seniors. Statistics Canada has reported that in 2009 nearly 30 per cent of seniors with licences have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. In 2009 that total was 20,000 people. As reported in Vox.com “Americans are getting older: 14 percent are currently over the age of 65, and that’s expected to surpass 20 percent by 2030. Modern medicine has extended people’s lifespans — and people are spending more years with less physical independence. And yet a smaller percentage of seniors move in with family or to retirement homes than in the past.”
What that means is that there are a whole bunch of senior citizens that should not be driving or cannot drive that live in areas that are car oriented, without good transit connections. Those communities that were seen as perfect for young families with station wagons and SUV’s are not easily connected by transit or alternative ride share services for people without wheels. In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers over the age of 75 are more likely to be in fatal crashes. Drivers over the age of 85 years of age are more likely to be in fatal crashes than teenagers.
Seniors who are isolated have lower life expectancies and poorer health. While 90 per cent now want to live the rest of their lives in their current home, access to shops, services and social activities like volunteering must continue. While assisted transit services like HandyDart are available, they must be booked in advance, and are often not on time. Some communities are planning ‘lifetime Communities” districts, which incorporate shops, services, parks and community centres that can all be reached by walking or a wheelchair. Other experts see Uber or Lyft as being vital to fill the gap between HandyDart and the use of a personal car, indeed even calling on cities to name ride sharing as part of paratransit services, with Uber and Lyft even delivering groceries and goods to seniors. These ride share services will provide “an easy means of getting around for people who can no longer drive — allowing millions of seniors to remain in their homes without becoming isolated.”
It is already being reported that seniors are comprising up to 40 per cent of Uber rides taken in some communities. Despite fears that the application would be challenging for seniors to use, it has been accepted, and the app now allows others to book for seniors if they do not have a smart phone. Up to twenty-two per cent of the seniors’ population are “elder orphans” without spouses or children to provide driving assistance, and ride share provides them with independence. As one ninety year old observed: “I can go wherever I want – the road is endless with Uber.”