Most of us take our mobility for granted. We grab our keys and head out to work, buy groceries, and shuttle our kids to movies and soccer practice—all without a second thought. But for the one-third of Americans who don’t drive and many others who lack access to a working vehicle, transportation options don’t come easy—especially in rural America, where transportation has long been a seemingly intractable problem.
The technology revolution is showing potential to help solve that problem and enable more Americans to take part in the economic and social lives of their communities. One new and promising service is Liberty.
The Robinson family at a neighbor’s dairy farm
21st Century Model Meets Rural America
Liberty has been described as the Uber for rural America, since it connects riders to drivers through a mobile app similar to those used by Lyft and Uber. But to founder and CEO Valerie Lefler, “Liberty is about more than just giving rides. It’s about providing Mobility as a Service.”
The company engages local partners to identify a community’s transportation gaps and then works to fill them. Liberty charges customers $1.10 to book and $1 dollar per mile on average. In addition to the app, customers can schedule rides through Liberty’s call center. Liberty uses area-specific mobility managers who provide a direct line of communication to customers and also work to build partnerships in the community.
Just launched in 2016, Liberty’s rural strategy has already brought it to three states (Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota), with seven total expected by year’s end. Applications to bring service to more than 60 counties in 2018 could mean the company will be operating in 16 states by the end of next year.
Target Market Typified
Yankton, S.D., (county population 22,616) epitomizes rural transportation challenges. Buses require a 24-hour advance reservation and only operate weekdays 7:30 to 4:30, and taxicab supply doesn’t meet demand.
The city recently was able to secure a $25,000 grant from the local economic development corporation to bring Liberty to Yankton County. The Mayor took an inaugural ride on June 30.
“They are not looking to own the market, but fill gaps in the service,” said City Commissioner Nathan Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing Liberty to town.
Beth Robinson was one of Liberty’s first customers. Robinson is a mother of three children and a family caregiver for her husband, Chris, who has a terminal heart defect and uses a wheelchair part-time. Since the onset of Chris’ illness in 2010, Beth’s caregiving responsibilities have prevented her from working outside the home. The family relies almost exclusively on Chris’ disability income.
Locating rental housing that was both affordable and accessible in town proved challenging. They rented a five bedroom farmhouse outside town at about half the price of a three bedroom apartment in Yankton. But soon after moving, their vehicle broke down. It’s been out of service ever since.
Then Beth discovered Liberty. Chris, after catching an accessible bus for the 17-mile journey into town, was unable to schedule his return trip. Liberty does not yet have access to accessible vehicles in Yankton, but the area manager and her husband, a liberty driver, came through. They lifted the 150-pound wheelchair into the back of a small SUV and got Chris safely home, groceries and all.
“That had us for customers for life after that,” said Beth.
Since then, the family has taken 6-7 Liberty trips—to buy groceries, check out books from the library, and get her kids to a summer cooking class.
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Whether innovative companies such as Liberty will be able to survive in resource-constrained rural markets and whether they can complement, rather than compete with, existing public transportation are open questions. To enter a market, such services will likely need start-up funds and local partners who can help subsidize trips for those unable to pay the full cost of a ride. But the enthusiasm communities have shown for this service gives hope that a generations-old problem for rural America just might have a solution. Such issues and solutions will be explored in more detail in future blog posts.
About the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.
Also of Interest
Earlier this week, AARP named HomeEXCEPT Inc. the Grand Prize winner of the AARP Innovation Champion Awards competition. The team was awarded $10,000 in cash for designing a homecare sensor that allows caregivers to monitor loved ones by using thermal sensors used to track movement.
The AARP Innovation Champion Awards was created to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary efforts of companies that are aligned with AARP’s core mission – to empower people to choose how they live as they age.
The AARP Innovation Champion Awards also honored six finalists, one in each of six categories: Health and Safety Awareness, Daily Essential Activities, Caregiver Quality of Life, Care Coordination, Social Well-being, Transition Support. Finalists came from Canada, Israel and Korea in addition to the United States and all demonstrated the importance of ageless design with their submissions.
The finalists and Grand Prize winner were selected by AARP’s panel of judges: Bill Horne, Executive Editor, AARP The Magazine; Rich Tehrani, Group Editor in Chief, TMC: Technology Marketing Corp.; Robin Raskin, Founder, Living in Digital Times; Patricia Moore, President, Moore Designs; Amy Goyer, Author and AARP’s Family and Caregiving Expert.
For the full list of winners per category, product descriptions and prizes, log onto www.aarp.org/innovationaward.
Have you ever asked yourself these questions, “What’s the best mobile app to use or the best device to purchase for achieving your everyday goals?” “How can I use technology to stay connected to family and friends, search for jobs,manage my homes, care for loved ones and learn a new skill?” Most of us have. To help with answers, AARP is hosting a free Online Technology Fair, Thursday, June 8 from 1PM to 6PM EST. You can register now to learn about the latest technologies for your daily life without feeling overwhelmed.
The fair will focus on utilizing technology to prioritize and simplify your life, finding work and connecting caregivers to loved ones, fellow caregivers and find local resources. You will find interactive videos and games, plus live webinars and video chats featuring industry experts. You can get your questions answered by representatives from about two dozen non-profit organizations and government agencies that include American Institute for Cancer Research, Consumer Technology Association, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Volunteer Match and Next Avenue, to name a few.
By now, we probably all use technology to achieve and engage in most of our life activities. Through the use of our smart phones, computers, and now smart cars and smart homes, there is always something new being created to make our lives simpler. To hear more about this and others, representatives from AARP Driver Safety will discuss the latest in smart vehicle technologies, and AARP Fraud Watch Network will discuss how to stay safe online. In addition, Dean Reistad of HelloTech will talk about how to simplify your life by using smart home automation, and author Jason Rich will discuss how companion robots, technology-controlled pill boxes, and other gadgets can enhance your life.
Using technology to find a job is now common practice. If you are job hunting you are probably using one or more online job boards. For this event, AARP work & jobs expert Kerry Hannon, Tom Ogletree of General Assembly, and other knowledgeable staff will talk about how to better use technology to boost your skills, stand out in your field or transition into a new career. You will also learn about how the AARP Job Board and the AARP’s Employer Pledge Program can help you find relevant jobs for your skills and experiences. They will share information about AARP’s job seeking resources that range from how to prepare your resume to preparing for the interview. You’ll even learn more about teleworking – from how to find a job that allows you to work from home, to how you can stay connected as you work from home.
Now that caregiving has now stepped into the world of technology, apps and gadgets can help you stay connected to your loved one as well as a network of other caregivers. We know caregiving takes a village to provide relief, moral support and help with identifying needed resources. Attend to hear about AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center and Caregivers in the Community (CINC) app that will help you prepare to care and connect to local resources and fellow caregivers.
Register now for the AARP’s free Online Technology Fair and participate from the comfort of your home or office. Take advantage of the myriad of tools and resources offered and discover surprising tricks and shortcuts that can help you from dawn to dusk. Can’t make the live event? Register and you can view the event on demand.
AARP helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for and equips Americans 50 and older to live their best lives. Discover all the ways AARP can help you, your family and your community at AARP.
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