A low-cost transportation program for seniors, R.Y.D.E, can now expand its services into Morgan Hill and San Jose after receiving a $327,000 federal grant, South Bay leaders said on Wednesday.
R.Y.D.E, also known as “Reach Your Destination Easily,” is a car service that helps seniors, 65 years or older, go to the doctors, get groceries, meet with friends and even vote.
“We have all been dealt a dose of isolation and loneliness by the COVID-19 pandemic but unfortunately this is everyday life for far too many seniors in our area,” said Tylor Taylor, co-operator of the R.Y.D.E program. “R.Y.D.E. was designed to mitigate that circumstance and to provide independence, dignity and access to older adults who need it.”
Taylor, who is also the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council executive director, said seniors who have lost their ability to drive or do not live near a public transportation option are often cut off and isolated from society. He shared that some hadn’t left their homes for over a year.
R.Y.D.E started as a pilot program three years ago in the city of Saratoga in collaboration with non-profit West Valley Community Services before expanding to multiple neighboring cities in the South Bay.
“Over these past three years R.Y.D.E has proven itself time and time again in these five West Valley cities,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said.
It operated in Saratoga, Cupertino, Monte Sereno, Campbell and Los Gatos before its most-recent expansion into San Jose and Morgan Hill.
The extension will be particularly noticeable in Morgan Hill, Mayor Rich Constantine said.
“Morgan Hill is known as a transportation desert and what that means is that we don’t have great access to mass transit … so you could pay double the costs even if you live next to the bus stop,” Constantine said.
Not just for downtown anymore
Morgan Hill has had a senior transportation program, Get’n Around Town, that would provide rides to the city’s Centennial Recreation Senior Center, but now with the expansion and re-branded transit program, seniors have the ability to go elsewhere.
“Merging with R.Y.D.E means additional funding, marketing, and a supportive network of two caring organizations aligned with our goal of keeping older adults connected to the community,” said Debbie Vasquez, Recreation Supervisor for the Centennial Recreation Senior Center.
During the pandemic, R.Y.D.E has served as a lifeline for many South Bay seniors.
“We are not transportation specialists; we are social service agencies,” Taylor said. “We have a combination of paid and volunteer drivers, and all of them get to know our riders, listen for cues that indicate a need, and are able to respond with resources.”
Even before COVID-19, drivers helped connect riders to senior meal programs and other social services. When ridership fell during the shelter-in-place orders, the program shifted efforts and began delivering services.
For riders, COVID-19 precautions including pre-ride temperature taking, health screenings, plexiglass dividers, masks and gloves were also implemented.
Laurel Perusa, a long-time resident in Saratoga, has been using the R.Y.D.E program for more than two years because her age-related dry macular degeneration impairs her driving.
“I am very involved in the Saratoga community and R.Y.D.E has allowed me to continue my volunteer work and be engaged in my community,” Perusa said. “I know many seniors who use R.Y.D.E and it has changed the lives of many.”
Lisa Oakley, Board President of the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council and a volunteer driver at R.Y.D.E, held back tears as she explained the significance of the ride-share program.
“It is bigger than just giving a ride,” Oakley said. “This is about providing people the opportunity to be social with each other, for generations to bridge a gap between each other, and to share family stories and build a connection with each other.”
Seniors interested in R.Y.D.E services can sign up online and book rides as early as a month in advance. Fees are based on the number of miles traveled and a trip can range from $0.90 to $18.00. Financial assistance is also available.