Some transportation options and programs provide consumers with more flexibility. They allow passengers to get from one specific location to another rather than travel on a fixed route. This is sometimes known as “mobility on demand” or “demand-responsive transportation.” It is common in rural areas because of the low population and long distances between destinations. Such services can also take the form of taxicabs, transportation network companies (TNCs), volunteer drivers, and ride-share programs. In some cases, it may be more cost-effective for human service agencies to contract with private taxis or nonprofit volunteer driver programs to obtain transportation services for their clients. For example, some area agencies on aging offer their clients vouchers that subsidize taxi rides rather than providing the services directly.
Transportation network companies (TNCs)—TNCs, also known as ride-sourcing companies, use online platforms. They connect passengers who need rides with drivers who offer rides using their personal, non-commercial vehicles. TNCs have made mobility-on-demand commonplace in cities and have been a driving force for technological change in the overall transportation system. They have increased transportation options and have the potential to improve quality and decrease prices.
TNCs maintain that they are not service providers, but rather facilitators of transactions, and that therefore they have limited responsibility for complying with legal requirements such as background checks, insurance coverage, and vehicle safety mandates (see this chapter’s section on Americans with Disabilities Act Legislation enacted by Congress in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. Implementation). This claim has been challenged in the courts, but until it is fully resolved the uncertainty about which laws apply to TNCs presents unique challenges for regulators seeking to protect both passengers and drivers. Most states have put in place some regulation of TNCs. Many local jurisdictions have done so as well.
Innovative programs to expand transportation options for older adults—volunteer transportation services and ride sharing are low-cost transportation options for older adults. These services connect volunteers willing to provide rides with those needing rides. It is an essential resource for older adults and people with disabilities who may need help meeting their transportation needs. For example, they might use such services go to medical appointments, the grocery store, and community events.
Alternative transportation services, particularly volunteer programs, face ongoing challenges. These include recruiting volunteers, securing liability insurance coverage, paying operational and administrative costs, and adhering to regulations from multiple funders. The federal nontaxable/deductible reimbursement rate for charitable driving for 2019 is 14 cents per mile (compared with 58 cents for business-related driving). Reimbursement amounts above that rate are considered taxable income.
Ride-sharing refers to carpooling and vanpooling, in which a vehicle carries additional passengers when making a trip, with minimal additional mileage. Vanpooling generally uses rented vans (often supplied by employers, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies). Most vanpools are self-supporting, with members dividing operating costs.
Ride-sharing has minimal incremental costs because it makes use of vehicle seats that would otherwise be unoccupied. A computerized carpool matching service usually facilitates ride-sharing.
Universal Mobility as a Service (UMaaS)—people living in urban centers are embracing mobility options available as alternatives to driving. These include walking, biking, taking public transportation, and getting rides from taxis and transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft (see also the Mobility on Demand—Transportation Network Company section in this chapter). To assist them, Mobility as a Service (Maas) platforms offer on-demand and real-time information on the transportation options available to them. For example, a MaaS app might present someone with different options for getting to a particular destination, which could include renting a scooter to get to a public transit station, then taking public transit, and then getting a taxi to the final destination.
UMaaS expands on this concept to offer all customers a single platform to efficiently identify all available transportation options, compare cost, schedule a ride, and pay for a trip. This includes transportation options for underserved populations, such as wheelchair accessible vehicles available for people with disabilities.
MOBILITY ON DEMAND: Policy
Transportation network companies (TNCs)
Policymakers should ensure that TNCs:
- ensure safety,
- incorporate consumer protections in such areas as access to redress, and
- expand access to transportation in a non-discriminatory manner.
At a minimum, state and local governments should ensure that TNCs:
- hire only drivers who are at least 21 years old, properly licensed, appropriately insured, and adequately trained, and whose driving records and background checks are consistent with passenger safety;
- ensure that vehicles are properly registered and routinely inspected and provide visible identification for customers to ascertain their driver and vehicle;
- maintain proper documentation on each driver and vehicle;
- ensure transparency in transactions from the start, including on rates charged;
- establish a meaningful dispute-resolution process and provide consumers with clear information on how to file a complaint;
- provide service to all people in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
- provide or support access to transportation for people with disabilities.
Programs to expand transportation access for older adults
State and local governments should encourage ride-sharing, volunteer programs, and other low-cost programs to help meet older adults’ transportation needs. This includes through public-private partnerships.
Congress should increase the charitable nontaxable reimbursement/deductible rate for charitable driving to equal that for business-related driving in order to encourage individuals to participate in volunteer driver programs.
Universal Mobility as a Service
Policymakers and the private sector should implement Universal Mobility as a Service to expand access to transportation for everyone in the community. This includes older adults, people with disabilities or limited mobility, and people with low incomes.