Pilot Uber Program is Delayed

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By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent

At 86 years young, Skipper Lynn doesn’t think it is safe to drive anymore.

Skipper Lynn has hung up her keys and relies on senior ride services for errands.

“My vision is getting bad. I am 86 now and I just don’t feel like it’s safe for me to be on the road,” Lynn said.

Lynn is one of many Laguna Beach senior citizens that may benefit from a city partnership with ridesharing giant Uber, which was supposed to start last month.  Under a first-of-its-kind anywhere partnership between the city of Laguna Beach and the company, seniors age 55-75 who are unable to drive, and any senior 75 years or better will be eligible for deeply reduced Uber rides.  Under the six-month pilot plan with Uber, rides for seniors would be priced from $6 – $8, with a 50 percent reimbursement for seniors.  Anyone over 18 who has a disability that prevents them from driving will also be eligible.

“Certainly transportation for seniors is something we are very interested in enhancing and promoting in Laguna Beach,” said Nadia Babayi, executive director for Laguna’s Susi Q Senior Center.  ”Whenever the program gets going we will be happy to promote it.”

Whenever the plan gets going is the question.  The pilot program was supposed to start at the beginning of July, but so far the city has hit the brakes.

“Council directed staff to consider expanding the program to include persons with disabilities,” said Paula Faust, deputy director of public works. “This program expansion and the implementation logistics are some of the main contributing factors to delay in the project.”

Faust also says billing issues, logistics and how calls for rides made by seniors without smartphones or with disabilities will be handled are all issues causing the delay.  She says the city did not want to put any more time into working through the program specifics until they were sure there was interest in pursuing it.

“While some of the issues were discussed and resolved, other issues need more time to be addressed,” Faust said.

The city’s Uber partnership will mean cutting money allocated to Sally’s Fund, a non-profit that has partnered with the city to provide free transportation for seniors between their homes and errands, including visits to the Susi Q, since 2002.  This spring the city voted to reduce its expenditures to Sally’s Fund by half after the Uber partnership takes hold.  Sally’s Fund picked up 2,995 seniors in 2015 at a subsidized cost of $26 a ride, according to a city report.

“Not all seniors use Sally’s Fund,” Babayi said, noting that Sally’s Fund rides need to be scheduled at least two days in advance.   “Perhaps there are more that would be interested in calling Uber and getting a ride immediately.”

As a whole, public transit in Laguna Beach has been shaken up this year.  In September, the city will eliminate midday hourly transit service in hillside neighborhoods, and will drop its weekday route in North Laguna altogether.   On Monday July 31, a city public outreach meeting was held where recommendations for modifications to the Neighborhood Trolley Services and cancellation of the North and South Laguna Mainline Routes were discussed, and the city is still soliciting feedback.

“Uber is meant to compliment, not replace the city’s senior transportation,” Faust said.

Uber, as a company, has been on a rocky road as of late. The ridesharing pioneer is currently without a chief executive after Travis Kalanick stepped down in June following the release of a report by former Attorney General Eric Holder on the company’s “toxic culture,” including sexual harassment allegations and discrimination claims.

Faust insists the delayed start to the city’s partnership with the company has nothing to do with its turmoil playing out in the public.

“The city is moving forward with the partnership with Uber, to implement the senior mobility pilot program.  Negative press has not deterred the implementation of the program,” Faust said.

Babayi says seniors are excited about the Uber partnership because it may help seniors in isolated pockets that are inaccessible by a bus, trolley or even a large van.

“We have been talking about the success that the smaller vehicles may have going up into the hills,” Babayi says.  She also says the Susi Q is preparing workshops to help seniors set up and use the Uber app on their iPhones and iPads, and helping them fill out the application form before the city program begins. No start date has been set.

Seniors like Skipper Lynn are anxiously awaiting Uber’s ascent.

“It worries me that a lot of seniors can’t get out to do things,” Lynn said. “It’s a wonderful thing for us seniors to have who otherwise might be shut-ins.”

 

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Deputy director of public works Paula Faust is EXTREMELY wrong about “negative press” and Uber. It’s not negative press or fake news, Paula! The lovely city of Laguna beach should NOT align themselves with a horrendous company like Uber. There are alternatives: Lyft, taxis, and EXPAND Sally’s Fund not decimate it’s funding. Paula Faust(interesting last name…) you are taking tax payer monies away from a NON-PROFIT to give to a for profit company. THAT in itself is inherently wrong and not what a representative of Laguna Beach should attest to.

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