Aging but ambulatory West Valley residents over the age of 55 who can no longer drive, or don’t want to, have an easy, low-cost new option for getting where they need to go, and back, whether it be a doctor’s appointment, grabbing a bite to eat, seeing the hairdresser or doing a little shopping with a friend.
To paraphrase singer James Taylor, all you’ve got to do is call … 36 hours in advance, be an area resident and be able-bodied enough to get to a waiting car on your own two feet.
The Reach Your Destination Easily (or RYDE) program launched in October, in part to help transit-dependent elders after the nutrition program Meals on Wheels and the Valley Transportation Authority’s paratransit services were cut to West Valley.
RYDE is ‘a blessing’
“RYDE has been such a blessing,” says Los Gatos resident Carol Milligan, 79, who gave up driving in 2017 when her eyesight declined as a result of macular degeneration. “I use it between 16 and 20 times a month, which allows me to continue with all my activities.”
After she stopped driving, Milligan found it difficult to get to the bus, which ran only once an hour. She tried Uber, too, but it’s not cheap. Now it’s a breeze getting to the gym, the bridge club, the grocery store and the doctor. “RYDE has allowed me to stay independent, and that’s so important as we age,” she says.
Sliding fare scale
Payments are charged on a sliding scale based on riders’ ability to pay. The base fare is $9, but the majority of passengers, so far, don’t pay anywhere near that.
The early ridership numbers show the program is working to solve on the local level a transportation problem that a growing senior population is experiencing all over the County — and all over the country, for that matter.
“In the last four months, we’ve signed up over 100 people to participate in the program as passengers,” said Tylor Taylor, executive director of the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council. He, along with West Valley Community Services Executive Director Josh Selo, helped design and launch the RYDE program, with crucial help from others. “We’ve delivered nearly 600 rides so far in that four-month period.
“The encouraging part about that is that the numbers are doubling month over month, so our growth is pretty rapid as word of mouth starts to get out in the community.”
The program has been a good deal, considering the first-year budget was only $250,000. That’s possible only because it’s so dependent on volunteer drivers from the community who use their own vehicles to provide rides on an appointment basis.
RYDE does employ two part-time paid drivers, and so far, new volunteers are keeping pace with the growing demand, Taylor says.
Right now, RYDE services are available only to 55-or-over residents of the West Valley communities of Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Cupertino, the areas served by SASCC and WVCS.
Rightly or not, some people tend to see government as more likely to be part of any problem, rather than a likely part of the solution. But the truth is, RYDE wouldn’t be the early success that it’s been were it not for Joe Simitian, who represents the five cities on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Before he got involved, the cities were aware of the seniors’ transportation problem, as were the two West Valley social service agencies and the Valley Transportation Authority. But they were struggling to put a solution in place because of their fragmented jurisdictions. And so Simitian stepped in.
Simitian the ‘evangelist’
“Somebody had to be the guy who said, ‘Come on, let’s all pull together,’” he said, describing his main role as an “evangelist” for the program after he learned about the success of a tiny pilot program based on a model he knew about from Palo Alto’s Avenidas senior center. “Everybody acknowledged the problem, and it just required somebody to corral folks who were already interested and in some cases had taken a look at a piece of the problem.
“It’s one of the challenges with some of the smaller communities in Santa Clara County,” he says. “In a city the size of San Jose, you’ve got the critical mass to do big things for a big number of folks, but in the smaller communities, many of which are in my district, the simple challenge of getting everybody to work together can often be the most significant impediment but also the greatest opportunity to do some good work.”
Simitian loves that the social services agencies were working on the problem before he came along, noting that they “know the lay of the land, have relationships with people in those communities. … And there’s a live, warm voice that picks up the phone and has a real conversation with people who are trying to figure out how to get from where they are to where they need to go and back again. It’s been a marvelous partnership, and one that I hope can be a model for other parts of the County and perhaps other parts of the state as well.”
Booking a RYDE
- Residents of Los Gatos, Saratoga, or Monte Sereno contact the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council: Call (408) 892-9739 or email RYDEinfo@sascc.org
- Residents of Campbell or Cupertino, contact West Valley Community Services:
(669) 220-0831 or RYDEinfo@wvcommunityservices.org
- Call at least 36 hours before planned departure time, but not more than five weeks ahead.
- To be a volunteer driver, call the appropriate number above.
Hours of Operation
- Transportation hours: 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Telephone hours: 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday.
- Excluding holidays.
Fees are based on income, not net assets, as well as number of miles to a destination:
- Up to 4 miles: 90 cents to $9.
- 4.01 to 8 miles: $1.30 to $13.
- 8.01 to 16 miles – $1.80 to $18.
More information available online at: https://www.wvcommunityservices.org/ryde#!
Author: Chuck Carroll