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Approach rideshare programs for your nonprofit carefully — and consider the associated risks

Published March 2018

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, offers her response to the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.

Is it safe to order Lyft or Uber ride for clients needing transportation to and from our nonprofit service center?

100 percent of our clients are seniors and they often miss appointments because their special transit or promised ride is a no-show. These folks really benefit from our service array and if we could use a peer-to-peer ride sharing company, with safety, we’d carve out a bit of our program budget to provide this transportation assistance. FYI: taxis are not abundant in our service area and are very expensive, so this is not an option we can fund.

What is your opinion?

Kathryn says …

While transportation safety is not my field, a lot of very public scrutiny has been directed at peer-to-peer ride sharing schemes, especially Uber. From not adequately performing driver background checks to shortchanging drivers in various ways, ride sharing services have seen their fair share of negative press. That said, traditional cab drivers are not always required to have clean driving and or criminal records, either. A 2014 study by ZenDrive found that 60 percent of taxi drivers had committed at least one ticket-able driving offense in that year.

In terms of simple risk management, what concerns me most is the potential liability you might have in arranging and paying for a rideshare that goes wrong. For instance, both Lyft and Uber specifically require that you sign their legal agreement, waiving your right to sue or arbitrate with the companies when you download their app. I would have these very lengthy agreement terms, these from Lyft for example, reviewed by an attorney before moving forward.

Consider that many seniors are considered “at-risk” because of cognitive or physical impairment and are at higher jeopardy for being a victim of elder abuse. Putting these clients into a vehicle without knowing the driver and having waived the rider’s right to hold the rideshare company accountable seems potentially fraught with ethical and legal issues.

There are services that utilize rideshare programs for senior transportation needs, monitoring the entire rideshare experience to ensure comfort, safety and communication with authorized family/friends for seniors. One such company is that advertises their fee for services as “a fast, affordable and convenient transportation solution for folks that want to safely maintain their independence.”

What does "communicate, screen and monitor rides" mean?

“Within 30 seconds of a trip being accepted by a driver, GoGoGrandparent checks to see if their car is too big for someone with ambulatory ailments or if the driver has previously been unwilling to work with older adults. Once a suitable match has been found we will issue a series of communications to the driver through their app, through text messages and by calling them to set their expectations and insure they are comfortable working with our caller. We have special scenarios for folks with visual impairments and ambulatory equipment. Once a driver has been found, we watch the trip and intercept lost drivers, malfunctioning GPS's or drivers that for various reasons had to cancel. Once a trip is in progress we handle setting, and whenever necessary, changing trip destinations for passengers that are planning a multi-stop trip. We proactively reach out whenever we find a driver going off the expected route. Once the trip is complete, we send confirmation messages to all authorized family and friends, and follow up with the caller to insure the trip completed safely and successfully. We have developed this process slowly after doing tens of thousands of rides and are still tweaking it as we discover new ways to improve the experience for our callers.”

Finally, The University of California, San Francisco, published this tip sheet on staying safe when ride sharing via such companies such as Uber or Lyft. Keep these tips in mind when using rideshare services for your nonprofit and even yourself:

Tips to Stay Safe while Ridesharing

  1. Call and wait for your driver inside
  2. Confirm the name of the driver and make of the vehicle
  3. Check the driver’s rating on your mobile ridesharing app
  4. Share your trip details with friends or family
    1. Note: If your ride hailing service doesn’t offer a status or ETA share option, snap a picture of the vehicle license plate and send it to a family member or a friend.
  5. Be a backseat rider
  6. Protect your personal information
  7. Follow along in your own maps app
  8. Travel in groups when possible
  9. If you sense that you are in trouble, call 911

Now, your take!

Susan L. says ... Some of the most reliable driving services might be completely free. My mom, who is over 80 years old, drives for her town’s Friends in Service Helping (FISH) program. FISH is a network of loosely organized, all-volunteer groups both in the US and internationally. Theoretically, an all volunteer program like this could be even more dangerous than a rideshare program, but the results in my mom's community have been amazing. My mom drives her clients to and from their medical appointments. With only two appointments a day, her clients receive excellent service while my mom enjoys getting to know her clients.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.




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