A couple holding hands while riding The COMET.

Columbia, SC area residents are in luck! As if the original “one-stop shop” functionality of the AARP Ride@50+ Program wasn’t already tremendously useful, now there are even more options to get from point A to point B. The AARP Ride@50+ Program mobile application for smartphone devices, called Feonix, now offers a new multi-modal function that includes local bus transportation, The COMET, in a whole new way!

Riders can now purchase bus passes without leaving the app in addition to first and last mile transportation to the bus stop. This is especially useful when walking is too far or weather conditions are not permitting.

The new bus pass option provides multiple benefits to the community – including the convenience of viewing the cost of a ride when booking multiple transportation options, including the bus, for a single trip. People who may have had reservations about taking the bus due to the distance from their home have a more convenient way to access it. “When you do not feel well, or you are in pain, walking a mile to the bus stop is often out of the question,” said Valerie Lefler, Feonix’s Executive Director. Providing a suite of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options, from public, private to multi-modal trip options, the AARP Ride@50+ Program aims to simplify life for those who need it most.

This new multi-modal function that includes local bus transportation is possible thanks to the strong collaboration between the Program and The COMET, which fully supports the additional service available to their clientele. Many people who use The COMET are looking for the most economical transportation option available, and the Ride@50+ Program allows them to price compare across a range of transportation options and book the one that works best for them. From volunteer drivers and public transportation to ridesharing services and taxis, the Ride@50+ Program helps all community members to be more mobile than ever.

If you are interested in learning more about the new bus pass and multi-modal technology or exactly how the system works, you are welcome to call us toll-free at 1-888- 851-2131 or check out our training opportunities at aarp.org/ridecolumbia.

Logo of the Luther Social Services

Nahidah SoraMeere arrived in the U.S. in 2016 as a refugee from Iraq and resettled in Columbia, South Carolina. Despite not knowing any English, she was able to quickly obtain full-time employment working in food service at a local university with the help of the non-profit Lutheran Services Carolinas’s (LSC) Immigrant and Refugee Services. LSC is one of nine national agencies that help resettle refugees and help them achieve self-sufficiency and independence when they come to the United States.

After a couple of years working in food service, Nahidah had saved up enough money to purchase a house closer to her son. Being closer to her son gave him additional time to teach her English, making it possible for her to begin thinking about obtaining a new job. She wanted to find work in a field that she was more passionate about – clothing and beauty. However, without a car of her own, transportation was another barrier to her job prospects. Because traditional ridesharing options were too expensive per ride and she lived in an area where the bus was inaccessible, Nahidah felt as though she was left with no affordable transportation options.

Happy group of four sitting on park bench

Social worker Seth Hershberger at a bus stop visiting with clients he supports in accessing transportation to work.

While Nahidah was eventually able to find work at a department store, transportation was still a challenge. That’s when Nahidah’s social worker at LSC, Seth Hershberger, referred her to the AARP Ride@50+ Program. The Ride@50+ Program allows Nahidah to get to and from work each day at a cost affordable to her, allowing her to maintain a high level of self-sufficiency and financial independence while keeping the job she loves. She continues to study English and is now working towards getting her own driver’s license.

When Seth spoke to Nahidah about her experience with the Ride@50+ Program so far, she shared how helpful the Feonix volunteer driver who gets her to and from work every other day has been for her: “I am very grateful for how respectful and kind he is and how he always shows up on time with a clean car.”

Nahidah has been able to use the AARP Ride@50+ Program to find and book transportation to the many new opportunities she has in the U.S., including educational classes, employment, or simple trips to the grocery store supporting her in her new journey.

Melanie Dalton and Claudia Brooks behind the booth at the Patient Empowerment Workshop

Melanie Dalton (left) and Claudia Brooks (right) behind the booth at the Patient Empowerment Workshop

The gymnasium at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina was abuzz with energy and activity on the afternoon of September 22, 2019. The National Kidney Foundation, its partners, suppliers and various nonprofit organizations participated in the second annual Patient Empowerment Workshop, organized and managed by Rena Baker, Marketing Manager of Azura Vascular Care of South Carolina in conjunction with the National Kidney Foundation. More than 400 patients, caregivers and kidney health related community organizations participated in the event, which was established to educate, empower and support kidney patients, organ donors, and their families.

“The support of everyone involved directly influences and positively impacts the lives of those at risk, those living with the disease, and those who care for and about them” says Rena.

The event started with a carnival-booth style expo where kidney community members and vendors provided participants with education and support, offering information such as treatment options for kidney disease, organ transplant and donation, financial planning, healthy lifestyle training, and transportation options. AARP Driver Safety, a sponsor of the event, provided information about the AARP Ride@50+ Program. Melanie Dalton, Senior Area Manager with Feonix – Mobility Rising and Claudia Brooks, a member of the AARP Ride@50+ Program Mobility Leadership Circle, handed out flyers, frisbees and fun to all those who came by to learn more about the AARP Ride@50+ Program.

“Transportation to and from dialysis treatment is a major concern for many of our patients” reports Rena. “Many patients cannot drive themselves and find it extremely difficult to get to and from their appointments, and without regular and continuous care, they are at risk for diabetes and high blood pressure in addition to kidney disease.”

Melanie Dalton endorsing the Ride@50+ Program

Melanie Dalton presenting the Ride@50+ Program to attendees at the Patient Empowerment Workshop

In support of transportation needs, the AARP Ride@50+ Program, powered by Feonix – Mobility Rising, provided complimentary rides to and from the workshop. Many patients and their companions were able to take advantage of this offer, enabling them to attend the event.

“Without the generous contribution of free rides, some of our patients would not have been able to attend.” says Rena, “And having the AARP Ride@50+ Program in our clinics means that our social workers, receptionists and patients have more options for finding affordable and efficient transportation solutions.”

Following the event, participants were treated to dinner while interacting with a panel of patients, doctors, kidney donors and others.

“Everyone left feeling empowered with knowledge that will improve the quality of daily life for those suffering from kidney disease” said Rena.

The AARP Ride@50+ Program is led nationally by Kyle Rakow, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety, a visionary leader for the future of mobility for older adults. A year post-launch in Columbia, Kyle explains what’s next for the program.

Q. Why has AARP Driver Safety taken on this challenge to launch complex technology and community development to deploy Mobility as a Service? How does this fit with the AARP Driver Safety mission?

A. This idea really is coming out of the AARP Driver Safety work that is connected to the issue of transportation in Livable Communities. Within this issue area of mobility is where we really help individuals live their best life and this includes aging in place. There is a critical focus area on not just thinking about today, but also the future of transportation. This includes a full suite of opportunities, including increased expertise in ridesourcing, vehicle technology, autonomous vehicle technology and mobility as a service. What is critical is the result of all of them – mobility. We want to help drivers and riders get around for as long as possible as safely as possible, because mobility has the opportunity to support all aspects of living a healthy life.

Q. What does the AARP Ride@50+ Program consider its top 3 goals?

A. Overall, our goals for the Mobility as a Service pilot are very straight forward:

1) The first goal is to understand if we could find the right technology and build the opportunity to move individuals using multiple modes of transportation. We want to know if we could build something — if it was even possible – for AARP to leverage advanced technology in providing these opportunities.

2) If we accomplish the first goal, we want to know if providing access to multiple transportation options to create efficiencies to move an individual would result in people using it.

3) In addition to building and using the technology, we want to know if individuals and businesses would pay for this, so that a product and service like the AARP Ride@50+ Program can be sustainable from a programmatic standpoint.

AARP Driver Safety Research Statistics

AARP Ride@50+ Suite of Programs

Q. What are some of the key takeaways from launching the program in Columbia, SC?

A. The main takeaway is that we did it! It was a new area for AARP, but we were able to piece together this opportunity to provide a platform that arguably hasn’t been done before in this manner in the United States. Now that we know it is possible to do something like this, we have a lot of opportunity to build on that foundation.

Q. What would you say personally is your biggest “win” in launching the AARP Ride@50+ Program?

A. Our biggest win is really how we’ve been able to move into a community and provide a platform to solve challenges that cross multiple areas. The AARP Ride@50+ Program is able to work with the city and bring entities together who normally wouldn’t work together, such as businesses and government. I think to connect into this lane of community was an enormous win. Another win was our connection with The COMET and their $250,000 federal grant that will allow us to work together to help individuals access medical care. That is a big win for the community.

Q. Will the program be available in other communities besides Columbia, SC?

A. Yes, we are excited to be expanding this work to the South Dallas, Texas area, as well as have goals to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan over the next couple of years.

Q. Why were those locations selected for expansion?

A. The locations were selected in connection to our work with the AARP Livable Communities team. We worked really closely with them to decide what our next steps would be and wanted to understand and leverage their existing work. The Livable Communities team has so many amazing thriving partnerships we could have selected 100 different communities.

Q. Are there other cities for expansion on the horizon?

A. At this point, there are not, but we’re always interested to understand how this platform and service could be beneficial in communities across the U.S.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the program?

A. This opportunity in piloting Mobility as a Service is a critical stepping stone for transportation and mobility advancement. It’s with the learnings through pilots like ours, that the opportunity for mobility for a lifetime could exist.

  1. U.S. Department of Transportation, “Traffic Safety Facts 2016 Data,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (May 2018) https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812500
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation, “Beyond Traffic: 2045,” (2015) https://www.transportation.gov/policy-initiatives/beyond-traffic-2045-final-report
  3. http://newsroom.thehartford.com/releases/drivers-age-50%20-want-more-high-tech-safety-in-next-vehicle-according-to-the-hartford-and-mit-agelab
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  5. http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/caregivers-resources/grp-transportation/transportation-and-the-elderly-article.aspx
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