Ten Safety Tips for Older People Using Rideshare

woman getting out of rideshare car, wearing mask, and with a guide dog

Whether you request a ride from Uber, Lyft, or a ridesharing service specific to your community, or a family member hails a ride from their smartphone, there are steps you can take to be and feel safer getting into a car with a total stranger.

How Can You Know Who Is Picking You Up?

  • The app on your smartphone or the family member requesting your ride will tell you your driver’s name and the color, make, and model of the car, and the license plate number. You may be able to use your low vision aids to identify when your ride arrives, but if you can’t recognize the make and model of a car, no worries, someone standing near you probably can. And, if you can’t see the color of the vehicle, you can tell someone nearby to watch for the white Toyota Corolla, and then you can ask them to verify the license plate for you.
  • If none of this is possible because no one is nearby to help, you can ask the driver who pulls up at your location to identify themselves by their name. If it matches the name in the app, you should ask, “Who are you picking up?” to make sure there are not two different drivers named David with Uber arriving at your location to pick up two different people.
  • Through the app, you, or your family member, can also contact the driver by phone to tell them they are picking up a person who cannot see them when they arrive. Tell them they will need to find you and describe your clothes, where you are standing, and if you are using a mobility aid, such as a support cane or a long white cane. Don’t worry about a stranger having access to your phone number, the driver’s app keeps your number hidden from them, and once your ride is over, the driver’s number will no longer work from your phone.

Be Smart About Getting into the Car

  • Never give them your name first. Never ask them if they are “David.” Always verify what you know from the app and what they should know from the request. Remember that the app they use does not tell them your last name. It’s first names only, so they won’t say, “I am picking up Mr. Williams.”
  • You can sit in the back seat to maintain distance between you and your driver if that is your preference. And, if you cannot see if the driver is wearing a mask, you can ask him if you are concerned.
  • When you are settled into your seat with your seat belt fastened, the driver may ask where you are going to verify your destination. To increase your comfort level, ask, “Where does the app say I am going?”. It may not be an address; it may be “Giant Food Store.” Be aware the GPS will guide the driver, and if it seems like they are going out of the way, the GPS may be routing them around traffic, construction, or a road closure. If you are concerned, verify they are taking you to the Giant Food Store on Elm Street. You can suggest the best route, but don’t be surprised when the driver trusts his GPS more than you, and some services may even charge more for taking an alternate route.

What Should You Do While You Ride?

  • Chatting with your driver while you ride is not necessary but can help pass the time and make you feel more comfortable.
  • Be cautious not to reveal private information if you choose to converse while riding. For example, don’t share that you are leaving on an extended vacation or living alone.
  • You can ask your driver to tell you about landmarks you are passing, like the bank at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 4th Street, to monitor your progress toward your destination.
  • Talking on your cell phone while you ride can also help you feel safer. “Hi, Mary, this is John. How are you today? I’m on my way home from a doctor’s visit using Uber. I just got picked up and thought I would talk while I ride.” Or you can even pretend to call someone at home and say, “I’m in the Lyft car, and I will be home in 12 minutes.” Keep it short because your phone might ring!

Another safety tool is built into the app you or your family member used to request your ride. Your trip can be shared so others can follow your progress on the screen. They know when you are dropped off at your final destination. They can even talk with you through a phone connection while watching your progress on the app.

What To Do When You Arrive

  • Before you exit the vehicle, verify that you are where you want to be. “Is the front door straight ahead when I get out?” It’s a good idea to point where you think straight ahead is, so there’s no mistake. If the driver says “No,” keep asking questions, or have him move the car until you are sure you are where you want to be, or you know where the door to your destination is in relation to where you are.
  • Many drivers will offer to walk you to the door. It’s your choice to say “Yes” or “No,” depending on your comfort level. If you accept the driver’s assistance, you can ask them to walk ahead of you and talk to you so you can follow the sound of their voice, or you can place your hand on their shoulder or upper arm so that you are touching clothing rather than their hand to reduce the chance of transferring germs.
  • Remember, there’s never a reason to get your wallet out when you arrive at your destination, because you should not tip with cash, and the cost of the trip and a tip that is optional is all handled by the app on the phone. Simply exit the car and either use your orientation and mobility skills (O&M) or the driver’s assistance to enter your destination. If you realize that you have left something behind in the car, you can find Lost & Found in the menu within the app. The rideshare company will reach out to the driver and arrange to get your item returned to you.

In Summary

Adding Uber or Lyft to your array of transportation options can greatly increase your independence and flexibility to travel within your community. Some public transportation authorities have partnerships with rideshare companies to offer people with disabilities rides for reduced rates. Check with local resources to see what options are available in your area, and always put safety first.