Transportation for Family Caregivers – Driving Scalable Solutions

According to a 2015 joint research study between the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, there are 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S.  Caregivers are typically female, 49 years old, caring for their mother, work full- or part-time, and provide care for an average of 4 years.

Transportation is the leading activity caregivers provide

Transportation is the leading Instrumental Activity of Daily Living that caregivers provide to their loved ones.  Caregivers spend a lot of time in the car, driving the individuals they care for from appointment to appointment or social activities, picking up groceries and medicine and running other errands.  On top of this, many caregivers have children of their own and may also be shuttling them between soccer practice, friends’ houses, tutors and school.  This means the average caregiver can spend a lot of time acting as a chauffeur, which may test their capacity to be physically and emotionally present in other activities, such as work or spending quality time with the ones they are caring for and their friends and family.

Providing transportation solutions for caregiving is hard

Unfortunately, providing transportation solutions for caregivers and their loved ones is not an easy fix.  Standard transportation options like public transit and taxis often work well for the general population, but do not address the special needs of this population, which require empathetic solutions.  Few organizations have been able to bring scalable, affordable solutions to market in a meaningful way, as described in the table below.

 Despite these challenges, there are some existing, albeit imperfect, solutions

The solutions that exist today can be helpful for those who are aware of them and know how to leverage the resources in their local communities. That said, it is still challenging to find a consolidated source of transportation options, even with options such as Eldercare Locator, a finder tool that connects individuals to community resources and Ridescout, an app that displays a wide array of transportation options available locally.

The federal government has acknowledged these challenges as the U.S. Department of Transportation prepares to launch the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) in the fall of 2015.  The NADTC will have $2.5 million to provide technical assistance to improve the availability and accessibility of transportation options that serve the needs of people with disabilities, seniors and caregivers. 

In the meantime, private companies, public and non-profit organizations, and volunteers continue to test and try to scale a number of transportation solutions.

 We need to think differently to bring effective and scalable transportation solutions to market

We should leverage the learnings from the plethora of pilots and community efforts and identify public and private partnerships that will provide ample funding and consumer choice for different solutions. 

Through such partnerships we could design solutions, including:

  • A national ridesharing service that provides extra assistance through for-profit, public and grant funding

o   Partnerships between the leading ridesharing companies and volunteer, public and escorted ride organizations that already have the expertise and training to deliver assisted/escorted rides

o   Collaboration between logistics and transportation coordination companies and escorted ride, public and volunteer organizations to leverage expertise on fleet management, greater coordination and transparency, and economies of scale resulting from centralized control of resources

o   Additional features – such as telephone and web requests – to make an older population more comfortable with the service

  • An aggregator or finder tool to allow caregivers and loved one to access all transportation options available in their communit

  • A nationally-recognized volunteer platform that allows caregivers and their loved ones to request rides and encourages volunteers to sign up

These solutions are not quick, cheap or easy.  But until we start thinking boldly and differently, we will be stuck waiting for business models to prove themselves out in the private market and communities and local governments to advocate for more funding.  Until then, caregivers will continue to juggle too much, causing them to miss work, lose quality time with their family and friends, and contribute to declines in their physical and emotional health.  At the same time, care recipients will continue to be dependent on their caregivers for transportation or risk becoming isolated and sick.  Given the choice, we simply can’t afford to maintain the status quo.