A new service is helping Tucson seniors stay independent, healthy and socially active without having to get behind the wheel of a car.
Envoy America, a Scottsdale-based ridesharing company that offers door-to-door service for senior citizens, launched in Tucson in January.
“Because we’re more than just a transportation service, we’re there to assist and in some ways be a companion for that senior,” said Cindy Hartin, the senior vice president of operations in Tucson.
After 15 months operating in Phoenix, Envoy America averaged around 300 to 400 hours a week in rides serviced by 30 drivers, Hartin said.
Tucson was the natural next step, given the number of snowbirds and retirees in the community, according to Hartin.
While Envoy America primarily caters to senior citizens, the company has a contract with the American Cancer Society in Tucson’s Road to Recovery Program that provides transportation for cancer patients of any age receiving treatment. They will also drive any individual who needs the service, regardless of age.
The goal in Tucson is to provide up to 500 hours of rides a week serviced by 35 to 40 drivers in 2017, Hartin said. She plans to meet with medical providers, businesses, retirement communities, hospitals, and physicians, to educate them about the program, and recruit interested drivers.
Frank Gould, a retired urologist from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first driver hired in Tucson. He found out about Envoy America from a friend who drives for the company in Phoenix, and knew that he wanted to get involved.
“There is a need for people that are disadvantaged to be able to get out in the world,” Gould said. “The fact is that you’re going to be a companion for this person, help them to the doctor’s office, you go shopping with them, you get them into their home and make sure that you’re safe and sound. It’s really a nice niche and one that’s really needed and underutilized because it hasn’t been available.”
Training to become a driver involves attending seminars in safe driving, how to work with people who have difficulty communicating, have memory loss, and have physical disabilities. Drivers must also be CPR certified. Once they complete training and start working, drivers are paid $16 per hour.
Additionally, all drivers for Envoy America must be 50 years or older.
“It’s important that it’s someone that they can relate to,” Hartin said. “For aging individuals, it’s important to be patient and take that time to explain what the process is, so we just find that middle-aged demographic has the time and understanding of those folks.”
Another feature of Envoy America that sets it apart from other ridesharing services is how it sets its prices. The service charges $35 for the first hour, but that can include a round trip or multiple stops. After the first hour, customers are charged $1 per minute, but if there’s an extended wait, they only get charged half the price. Payment information is taken in advance, so clients do not have to worry about it during their ride.
Drivers with Envoy America will wait for customers and make as many stops as they want. On Gould’s first drive, he shopped and had breakfast with his 90-year-old customer at Whole Foods and then took him to do some banking.
Customers can also specifically request drivers if they feel comfortable with them. For Steve Dickstein, Gould might be a perfect match — Gould and Dickstein both went to school for urology in Michigan, and after just one ride together, Gould talked about Dickstein as if they were old friends. Dickstein said that the ridesharing service was convenient and that he will probably use it again.
To schedule an appointment, call Envoy America at 1-888-375-5558. Prospective drivers or clients can go to envoyamerica.com for more information.