Senior And Disabled Riders of Volunteer Driver Service Say That Mental, Emotional and Physical Health Improves

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2012 outcomes survey of TRIP program riders reveals that receipt of transportation assistance may have health and mental health implications

Riders in the nationally known Riverside County California volunteer driver TRIP program have reported promising results in a recently completed survey, according to Richard Smith, TRIP General Manager. Smith says, “81% of those surveyed said they were ‘happier most days’ since they have been receiving TRIP special transportation assistance and 64% said that they believe their health has improved since being on the TRIP Program.” 57% reported improvement in relationships with people in their community and 86% said that they thought their quality of life had improved.

A 27% random telephone sample of active TRIP Riverside passengers was conducted. An attempt was made to contact 175 clients who were selected from among all participants in the service who were active between September and December 2011 and 116 completed surveys were analyzed. The current survey focused on the impact of TRIP transportation assistance on physical health, mental health, and perceived social well-being.

TRIP riders have more medical needs than average and between 4.9 and 6.1 trips per rider interviewed were reported to be made for medical purposes each month. That is between 1 and 1.5 trips to health services each week. The majority (67.8%) of the riders said the main reason they applied for TRIP assistance was to enable them to receive medical services. Many survey respondents mentioned the program’s value in helping with medical travel needs. One respondent said “Thank God for TRIP help and especially for travel to doctors and therapies” and another said “I do not have to worry if I will get to my doctor or not.”

In every community there are people who are classified as transportation underserved. These are people who live in an area without public or other transportation services or where minimal services are provided. They are probably elderly and live alone and have disabilities or suffer from chronic or serious illnesses or mental impairments that limit their mobility. Usually they are living on very low income that is near or below the poverty level. TRIP makes it possible for these people to access needed health and subsistence services which enable them to continue to live in their own homes and communities.

TRIP riders are able to travel with their volunteer drivers for grocery shopping one time or less per week. More than forty percent of TRIP riders have income of less than $833 per month and more than 80% have income that is less than the UCLA Elder Economic Security Index for the area; the amount of income that a person 65+, living alone needs to successfully live independently. The 2012 TRIP Outcomes Survey of Riders report is available at http://www.TripTrans.org.

Each month the TRIP Program provides almost 9,000 one-way trips for more than 500 low income older adults and persons with disabilities across Riverside County. According to Smith, TRIP riders do not drive, do not have family to help, and are unable to use public transportation because of seriously debilitating diseases or chronic disabilities. Smith says that people sometimes think of volunteer driver services as generally small but that since the beginning of TRIP in 1993, 1.23 million one-way trips and 15.1 million miles of escort assisted transportation have been provided for elderly and disabled Riverside County residents. Each year, a thousand or more volunteers pitch in to provide the needed rides.

In 2009 the Beverly Foundation named TRIP as the “nation’s best volunteer driver model”. The TRIP Model is an outgrowth of five innovative assumptions:
1.    If riders recruit their own drivers, they will be empowered
2.    If they have something to offer friends and neighbors in exchange for rides, they will feel more comfortable asking for rides
3.    If volunteers can be reimbursed for their travel, they will be more likely to provide rides over an extended period
4.    If friends and neighbors can use their own automobiles, the need to purchase and maintain vehicles by the program is eliminated
5.    If passengers and drivers can schedule their own rides, requirements for staffing and infrastructure are significantly reduced.

TRIP was created using a marketing approach. The Regional Planning Organization and the Office on Aging asked older adults what they wanted in a transportation service and then designed the program based on their preferences. Informants said they wanted personal vehicles to be used, they wanted the service to be free, they wanted the service to be available 24 hours a day every day, they did not want to have schedule rides in advance, and they wanted to be able to travel between cities without transfer or inconvenience. Volunteer escort-drivers make each trip with their rider, assisting them as necessary and required, and receive mileage reimbursements to help pay for gas.

Both the Riverside Country Transportation Commission (RCTC) and the Riverside County Office on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Connection have been continuous funders of TRIP in Riverside County since it began. Robert Yates, Multimodal Service Director at RCTC says, “TRIP has proven to be successful here for 19 years of the program’s operation to assist older adults and persons with disabilities who would not have been able to travel by alternative means.”

Ed Walsh, Director, Riverside County Office on Aging has similar praise for the program. Walsh says, “TRIP is a cost effective and efficient program for those who are the most difficult and expensive to serve.” Walsh adds, “It is more than transportation. It helps people recover from the debilitating conditions that often result from chronic isolation and loneliness.”

Many other organizations and agencies across the United States are beginning or are already operating services that are based on the TRIP model. Some of these include Community Connections in Claremont California, Orange County California TRIP, Bridges in Modesto California, TRIP Metro North in Malden Massachusetts, Family Centered Institute on Cape Cod Massachusetts, The Center@Jenk’s Rest, Lafayette Indiana, Thunder Road in Auburn Hills Michigan, and at the Lifelong Mableton Area Agency on Aging, Atlanta Georgia, among others.

The TRIP Program in Riverside County California is sponsored by the nonprofit Independent Living Partnership.

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Richard Smith

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