My older sister lives alone out of state and does not drive. She uses taxis about once a week but they are very expensive and somewhat unreliable. I have suggested she try using Uber which is available where she lives. I have offered to pay for her Uber account which Uber tells me is possible, My sister unfortunately can’t figure out how to put Uber on her flip phone Do you have any tutorial on how to do this? Fran, Burlington
Dear Fran: It will be nice once the lockdown ends to get back to teaching our rideshare classes and we will be working on a video. This column began two years ago as a way to augment our classes and expand upon the role of phones in transportation.
As you mention, many communities are now experiencing shortfalls in taxi service. That is leaving those who depend on them for trips, like your sister, high and dry. Not only are they expensive, they are also unreliable. Many taxi companies have ceased the call-in dispatch service, even though there are drivers with cars who wish to pick up passengers.
GPS to the Rescue
That’s where Uber and Lyft, the rideshare companies, become a fine option. But, summoning them does require a phone that can receive and send GPS (global positioning system) data. The “dispatch” takes place electronically instead of through a call-in center.
Since your sister is using a flip phone, it does not have GPS capability built in. She will not be able to call Uber or Lyft on her own, since the Uber or Lyft driver needs geo-coordinates to know a physical address for pick-up. However, you could be a ride hero and place the call for her.
To do so, you need to know exactly (and I mean exactly) where she is locationally when she wants to be picked up…..say 123 Main Street, Janesville. The rideshare app will send your phone a text message indicating that a pickup is occurring, distant from your own location. You will receive a text messages once the trip is confirmed, and when the rideshare vehicle picks up your sister you can use its “breadcrumb” trail to track her trip in real time. That’s a service taxis can’t provide.
Lots of people book rideshare trips on behalf of family members. And, there are more formal entities like Lyft Concierge, Uber Assist, and GoGoGrandparent that do this too. That said, it’s often a win-win when seniors get their own smartphones and learn how to use them- not just for rideshare but to stay more active and connected. Once they see the benefits and potential of the smartphone, many of them become eager learners.