| October 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Want a Ride? Need a Ride? Here’s Your Ticket!

Marilyn Greenblatt moved with her family from New York to San Diego in 2002. She joined Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) in 2003 and played an integral role in the initial launch of “Rides & Smiles,” a volunteer-based transportation program for San Diego seniors – something akin to Lyft or Uber.

Since then, the program has grown tremendously, and in 2008, “Rides & Smiles” became part of JFS’s umbrella program called “On the Go: Transportation Solutions for Older Adults.”

Currently, Marilyn is the “Rides & Smiles” manager, supervising northern and eastern San Diego and North County inland, with more than 200 volunteer drivers.

She is also the current chair of the San Diego County Volunteer Driver Coalition.

We talked about “On the Go” and “Rides & Smiles”:

LW: “Rides & Smiles” so well recognizes the needs of seniors – even if they can’t, or no longer want to be driving, many are still “on the go!”

MG: Yes, “Rides & Smiles” not only transports seniors to medical appointments; riders also go to hair salon appointments, take educational and social classes, visit a friend or spouse in the hospital or nursing facility, go on lunch/dinner dates, attend religious services and more.

“On the Go” shuttles provide group transportation to Jewish Family Service’s Social & Wellness Centers, shopping needs and special adventures, while its excursions provide group transportation to a variety of diverse activities including entertainment, health and educational fairs, and more. The “On the Go: Silver-Premium Service” also provides individual riders for personal errands and large groups for customized outings.

LW: The program seems like an obvious solution for our times; tell us how it originated.

MG: The North County inland areas of San Diego were identified as having gaps in easy, affordable transportation, particularly for seniors. With the support of the Palomar Health District, “Rides & Smiles” was launched in March 2004 serving Poway and Rancho Bernardo. The program started with five volunteer drivers and 12 senior riders. We now have 250 volunteer drivers and provide approximately 40,000 rides a year. Since 2008, more than 4,500 older adults have enrolled in the program.

LW: Who is using it today? Is there an age criteria? Are users picked up and delivered to their homes? How do they arrange the service?

MG: “On the Go” serves older adults living in 26 different zip codes throughout San Diego County. Riders must be at least 60 years of age and live independently, but with inadequate or unavailable transportation. All riders must also be mentally alert.

Our “Rides & Smiles” and shuttle services provide door-to-door transportation for riders. Excursions provide transportation from a central meeting location, although home pick-ups can also be arranged.

Once enrolled in “On the Go,” seniors call the offices to request rides. For “Rides & Smiles,” rides must be reserved at least one week in advance. Riders may also place their requests electronically through RideScheduler, our web-based scheduling system.

LW: Big issue: Who are the “Rides & Smiles” drivers and how are they vetted? Are the seniors – the users – also vetted?

MG: Potential volunteer drivers complete an online application. JFS then conducts a phone interview and reserves the driver a spot in a “Rides & Smiles” group orientation/training. Background screenings and DMV record reports are required.

Once vetted, “Rides & Smiles” volunteers can access RideScheduler to arrange rides according to their availability. Volunteers are in complete control of their schedule, including who, when and where they drive. Drivers can volunteer once a month, once a week or several times a day – any help is a big help.

Potential riders also submit to a phone interview to determine their eligibility. Completed and signed paperwork is required along with a small enrollment fee.

Both riders and volunteers are monitored carefully by our program coordinators to ensure the experience is a good one for both.

LW: What is the cost for seniors and the pay for drivers?

MG: There is a $20 enrollment fee for “On the Go.” Our shuttles cost $4 each way, and excursion costs vary depending on the venue.

Our “Rides & Smiles” program is donation-based, depending on the distance of the ride, and our volunteers are offered a mileage re-imbursement capping rate at 47 cents per mile.

“On the Go Silver” has a schedule of costs depending on the need. For example: a one-way ride of 10 miles is $35; our two-hour package of up to 20 miles is $75.

Shuttle, excursion and Silver drivers are all JFS employees.

LW: Does JFS need to invest in expensive – or special – insurance? How many cars/vans does JFS operate for the program? Is “On the Go” a seven-day-per-week service? What are the specific hours?

MG: JFS insurance covers the entire agency and includes coverage for the riders being transported by our “Rides & Smiles” volunteers. They use their own vehicles.

Our “On the Go” fleet includes two 24-passenger buses, one 18-passenger bus, one 16-passenger bus, one seven-passenger van, plus one American and one Ford Fusion sedan. All “On the Go” vehicles are ADA compliant and lift equipped. And, our “On the Go Silver” is capable of providing wheelchair transport.

Our program provides transportation seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

LW: What have been the program’s biggest challenges? Any anticipated changes?

Marilyn Greenblatt runs the Rides & Smiles manager.

Marilyn Greenblatt runs the Rides & Smiles manager.

MG: For “Rides & Smiles,” the biggest ongoing challenge is volunteer recruitment. Volunteers are always needed to keep up with the demand.  We welcome all applicants.

Interested volunteers and drivers can visit our website, www.jfssd.org/onthego or call (858) 637-3050 (drivers) and (858) 637-3210 (new riders).


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