Fulton County approves Uber rides for seniors

The senior citizens who took advantage of a pilot program and used Uber to get rides to the multipurpose Benson Center this year gave the service “glowing reviews,” a center official said.

So Fulton County decided Wednesday to expand the program.

The county commission will spend $10,000 to continue testing the service, which takes seniors to and from four senior citizen centers in the county. Transportation is a major issue for seniors — a recent survey showed that 15 percent of respondents older than 54 needed help getting to the centers.

MV Transportation, which provides rides for the county, requires booking two weeks in advance and is often overwhelmed, said Russell Sellars, vice president of the Friends of Benson. The county will continue to use that service, along with Uber, Sellars said.

Between February and May, 772 rides were given using the service.

“It worked extremely well,” Sellars said. “Everyone who participated thought it was the greatest thing.”

The program allows others to book multiple rides on seniors’ behalf, so they did not need to use smart phones. Sellars said volunteers called seniors to confirm they needed rides, booked the Uber ride. They then called the seniors back the name of their driver and the estimated time of arrival.

Kathryn Lawler, manager of aging and health resources at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said transportation is one of the greatest unmet needs in the senior population. As metro Atlanta’s population continues to age, the region needs more solutions.

Uber uses an extensive screening process for drivers, she said, and its rides are cheaper than traditional methods.

Sellars said he has encouraged the county to also explore relationships with other ride-sharing services, but that the pilot program used Uber only because the company was testing new technology and required a non-disclosure agreement. Sellars has a friendship with an Uber executive.

Fulton Commissioner Bob Ellis said the convenience and cost make the partnership intriguing.

“It is the future. It’s here now, and I think it’s a great opportunity for us,” Commissioner Joan Garner said in voting to fund the pilot.

The program will continue until September, or until the money runs out. The original program was funded with $5,000 from the Friends of Benson, and lasted from February through May.

Sellars said if the expanded pilot is successful, he will encourage the county to move $500,000 — or 10 percent of its senior transportation budget — to alternative ride sharing. In the future, he said, seniors also could be asked for a co-payment for rides, and could travel to places other than the multipurpose facilities.

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