[IMAGE]LIFE-ElderCare-VIP-Rides-1FULL.jpg[/IMAGE]Senior citizens in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area are able to get support from a non-profit that assists them with their transportation needs.
LIFE ElderCare’s VIP Rides program pairs senior citizens and non-seniors with disabilities in the cities of Fremont, Newark and Union City with a volunteer to escort them on their paratransit trips.
VIP Rides provides transportation to seniors and non-seniors who are ambulatory and non-ambulatory. Candidates for the program are only eligible if they have no nearby family members or other means of transportation.
"It really is for people who have no other way to get to the doctor or errands, without the service," said Rachael Vander Martin, communications specialist. LIFE ElderCare performs an assessment, and once it is determined that an applicant is eligible, they can set up paratransit service in their city. LIFE ElderCare then connects them with a volunteer who has chosen to help people on paratransit.
The program’s four direct service programs — VIP Rides, Meals on Wheels, Friendly Visitors and Falls Prevention — help older adults maintain their independence as they age. Staff and volunteers offer personalized, low to no-cost solutions to address hunger, loneliness, lack of transportation and increased risk of falls among elders.
The City of Fremont conducted a series of focus groups in 2001 and learned that one of the biggest challenges facing local seniors was the lack of reliable transportation. In 2004, the VIP Rides Program was initiated at LIFE ElderCare to provide escort assistance to paratransit riders by fully screened and trained volunteers.
While the area does have a low-cost paratransit service, it is limited to seniors who are age 80 and older and residents unable to access public transit independently due to a disability or disabling health condition. In addition, many seniors eligible for paratransit do not use it because they are either afraid of traveling alone or because they need an escort to help them get in and out of the vehicle.
“Some of the seniors are very frail... and even though they can use paratransit, and the drivers will assist them, they feel much more comfortable if they actually have someone who comes to their door, and accompanies them on their trip to the doctor or shopping. They like having that personal care, and it makes them less fearful of using the service," said Vander Martin.