Senior citizens often dread giving up driving because it either means being more dependent on others or being more isolated. It’s not much fun for family and friends either, since often it’s daughters and sons who have to take up the slack.
Startup founder Jay Connolly got the idea for Lift Hero from his own family’s experience. When his grandmother had to give up driving, it fell on his father and aunt to form an informal cab-rank for her. He could see a need for a service that would take a burden off relatives and friends, but that also wasn’t a standard taxi outfit with no great feeling for the older population.
“She had to make it across from Pasadena to UCLA–an hour drive every week for physical therapy appointment. My dad and my aunt struggled to figure out a solution that wasn’t just driving her,” Connolly says. “That’s when I realized it was a problem, and that people like me–I was pre-med at the time–would love to be doing a part-time job like helping out my grandmother.”
Lift Hero, which signs up drivers who use their own cars, has been described as “Uber for seniors.” But it’s more than that really. Many of the drivers are training to be doctors, or other health care professionals, so they have knowledge of senior ailments and psychology. All drivers need to have at least first aid certification and pass through a training program that covers assisted living equipment and emotional issues.
“It [provides] that extra level of trust,” Connolly says. “A taxi driver is still an unknown quantity and actually taxi drivers often avoid driving the elderly, because they know sometimes it will take a little longer.” As well as getting seniors to where they need to go, the drivers look to engage with their passengers, help them with shopping, and accompany them for meals.
Connolly trained for a time at Columbia University’s medical school in New York City before dropping out and moving back to California. He realized that a doctor’s life wasn’t for him and got a job at another startup Science Exchange, before venturing out on his own. Lift Hero is part of the Aging 2.0 incubator, which has several other interesting startups under its wing, including Lively, which makes an Internet-connected pill box, and True Link, which is developing a debit card that helps seniors avoid scams and stay out of debt.
Lift Hero is more expensive than a conventional cab, but not alarmingly so. It charges $35 an hour ($35 minimum) with accompaniment time charged at $25 dollars an hour. Seniors can also request that a driver is simply nearby, which costs $20 an hour.
It has has signed up between 10 and 100 drivers so far (Connolly declined to be more specific) and currently operates in San Francisco and the corridor down to Palo Alto. Connolly hopes to expand further into California and is currently looking for drivers.
“Ride sharing is exciting because it’s so scalable and it will allow us to grow a lot faster. There’s a lot less capital upfront,” he says. “It’s also great that drivers can do this in the spare time, because you can get some high-quality people who might otherwise not want to do this full time.”
Organizing a network of part-time drivers is bound to be a challenge, and Connolly, as with Uber, still has several regulatory issues to overcome. But his idea seems a good way to fill a clear need. Certainly, sons and daughters across the nation would be glad of some help.