COVID-19 resulted in major disruption to our normal lives. Federal and local mandates forced businesses and schools to close, and public transportation changed almost overnight. For those who depend on transportation for medical needs, this change largely affected options.

Travel and social distancing concerns have widely affected our ability to travel, with seniors, nursing homes and other at-risk groups cut off from the public transportation they might have depended on to get them to and from appointments.

However, we’ve come a long way since the onset of COVID-19. In 2021, more resources are now available to help those with medical transportation needs. Whether it’s a routine checkup on your calendar or a last-minute COVID-test, numerous transportation options are available to help you get where you need to go.

Transportation options

There are some resources available that can provide transportation to those who are facing a non-life-threatening emergency. If you are facing a life-threatening emergency, you should always call an ambulance for help.

For non-life threatening emergencies, there are some excellent resources that can help get you to the medical assistance you need.

Where to find a ride

  • Rideshare apps
    Uber and Lyft are two popular ridesharing companies that are stepping up during the coronavirus pandemic to help out. On its website, Uber writes, “6 million people miss medical appointments because they don’t have a ride.”

    To help, they are donating 10 million rides to help those in need. Lyft is also stepping up through LyftUp, partnering with nonprofits and providing free rides to those in need. Lyft is also offering free rides to essential workers to ensure there’s someone there to help when you get there.

  • Dial-A-Ride service
    Dial-A-Ride, or DART, is a paratransit service designed to help those with special needs that prevent them from enjoying normal transportation options. Instead of its fixed routes, DART offers a custom fixed-route service. Running only during regular hours, this is a service that’s specifically designed to offer more convenient and reliable transit for those with disabilities and special needs.
  • Hearts and Hands
    Hearts and Hands lets you post your ride requests to their entire network of volunteer drivers. Drivers can then assign themselves to your ride based on their availability. The majority of rides are used for medical needs, but rides are available for your more everyday errands, as well.
  • Become friendly with neighbors.
    Your neighbors can be your greatest ally and fastest option when you need a ride. There’s no need for the driver to go out of the way to pick you up or drop you off, and you get to enjoy some friendly conversation along the way.
  • Set up a recurring pick up with a rideshare driver.
    It’s always a gamble on what kind of driver you will be assigned when you call a ridesharing service, which is why it’s not a bad idea to connect with a good driver when you find one. Ask the driver if it is okay to share information so that you can set up recurring rides in the future. It gives the driver repeat business, and you receive peace of mind in return.
  • National Volunteer Transportation Center
    The National Volunteer Transportation Center relies upon the help of about 1,000 volunteers throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to provide seniors with valuable transportation services. Even better, if you need a helping hand, you have the option to choose from door-to-door, door-through-door or stay-at-destination assistance for your ride.
  • Explore local options.
    Many communities have added local resources to help out during the coronavirus crisis to ensure that seniors and at-risk individuals have a ride when they need one. The federal Administration for Community Living can connect you with your nearest Area Agency on Aging so you can explore additional options for medical transport in your area. You can also call the Eldercare Locator directly at 1 (800) 677-1116.

Staying safe and healthy while ridesharing

Even if you skip public transportation in favor of a private ride, you should still exercise safe and healthy habits before, during and after your trip.

  • Create a COVID-friendly health pack.
    When you schedule your ride, it may be helpful to put together a health pack to keep you protected during your travels. This can include extra masks or protective facial coverings, in addition to gloves to protect your hands. Add an EPA-approved hand sanitizer or wet wipes, and use them after your ride or after touching any surfaces.
  • Limit the number of rideshares you use.
    While convenient, it’s important not to become too reliant upon ridesharing because it is still a public-use vehicle that can carry contaminants. Restrict your ride use to an absolute minimum, only going out when necessary to reduce your chances of getting sick.
  • Stick to the same driver.
    Using the same driver can be beneficial for several reasons. You have a chance to vet the driving style, which goes a long way in establishing trust and safety for future rides. As you develop a personal relationship, you will likely find that you feel far more comfortable, too.
  • Call ahead to your rideshare driver.
    Sometimes, there are conditions or circumstances that can affect your ride, such as an autoimmune disorder or another unique medical condition. If you feel that your driver could benefit from advance knowledge, it’s okay to call ahead and give them a heads-up. That way, everyone will be more prepared and comfortable when the ride is ready to begin.
  • Wait for your driver inside.
    To best minimize contact and ensure your safety, particularly if your health is already compromised, it may benefit you to stay indoors somewhere safe until your ride shows up. You’ll be protected from the elements and will be at a safe distance to confirm your ride.
  • Confirm the driver before getting in.
    Most ridesharing apps will give you the license plate, driver name and photo in advance so you can confirm you’re getting into the right car. Always be sure to check your driver info against your arriving ride to ensure that this is the right driver you called. You can also check the driver’s profile on the app to see ratings and other details. Be sure to sit in the backseat to minimize contact.
  • Share your trip.
    Most ridesharing platforms allow you to share your trip details with family or friends. Uber will even share your driver’s name, photo, license plate and location with those contacts to better secure your safety. If you aren’t using a ridesharing service, simply send a photo of the license plate to a friend. You can also use your phone to follow along the route and ensure that there are no detours. If you feel threatened, do not hesitate to immediately call on emergency services.

How to volunteer to be a driver

If you are in a position to help out and provide transportation options yourself, now is a great time to serve where you can. Demand is high, and more Americans than ever before are looking to their neighbor for a helping hand through this pandemic. You will need a valid driver’s license, registration and proof of car insurance to get started, a requirement for most volunteer organizations, including the ones below.

Volunteer organizations

  1. American Red Cross Volunteer Driver
    The Red Cross is one of the most well-known emergency resource organizations in the entire world. Here in the U.S., there is a real need for volunteer drivers who can help seniors and other high-risk individuals receive the rides they need for medical appointments and other errands.
  2. Road to Recovery
    The American Cancer Society has its own dedicated program for transportation called Road to Recovery. This program helps to provide cancer patients with safe and reliable transportation to health appointments.
  3. Be Connected
    Be Connected is a community-oriented program that aims to provide assistance in several areas to families in need. In addition to volunteer transportation services, drivers can also volunteer to deliver food and other critical staples to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive them.
  4. Volunteer Transportation Center
    The Volunteer Transportation Center is one of the largest volunteer organizations for transportation services. Free rides are provided to medical appointments, in addition to rides for groceries and other everyday needs.
  5. National Center on Senior Transportation
    This federal organization works in conjunction with your local Area Agencies on Aging office to find you the transport you need. Dedicated volunteers complete thousands of rides each year, and the organization also offers escort services if necessary at your destination.
  6. VolunteerMatch
    This service takes a more in-depth approach to volunteering. It pairs volunteers based on their skill set and preferences, so you can choose whether you’re giving someone a ride to the doctor or simply transporting critical, life-saving supplies.
  7. MTM
    This non-emergency medical transport company is privately run and relies upon the support of volunteer drivers. From its headquarters in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, MTM maintains nationwide call centers while operating in a total of 31 states and the District of Columbia.

How to stay safe and healthy while giving rides

  1. Create a barrier.
    Many establishments have utilized clear, plexiglass shields to create natural barriers. In the car, it is a little more difficult but some have found a plastic divider or even a shower curtain to be helpful in limiting the transmission of germs between driver and rider.
  2. Provide hand sanitizer for passengers.
    Not everyone will remember to keep their hand sanitizer handy, so it is helpful to have your own available for use. Provide an EPA-approved hand sanitizer that passengers can use along their travels to limit the spread of germs within your vehicle.
  3. Keep extra supplies.
    Don’t take it for granted that your passengers will show up prepared. It’s easy to leave the house without supplies so lend a helping hand by providing extra disposable masks, wet wipes, disinfectants and gloves to help both you and your passenger feel more secure.
  4. Get your car cleaned out regularly.
    Germs and contaminants can accumulate in your car over time, so make sure that you regularly clean your car. Be sure to thoroughly vacuum and wipe down all surfaces with an EPA-approved disinfectant.
  5. Request mask use.
    When you are in a vehicle, there is a short proximity between you and your passengers. You may feel more comfortable if you request that your guests wear a mask or other protective face covering to protect everyone inside of the vehicle.
  6. Encourage backseat riders.
    It’s best to give as much space as possible between the driver and passenger of a vehicle, so encourage riders to sit in the backseat as much as possible. It also encourages a safe exit from the vehicle when the ride is over.
  7. Open the window.
    If weather conditions allow and your passengers don’t object, roll down the windows to improve ventilation. By improving the airflow, you will help to prevent any harmful materials from lurking around and contaminating the air or your vehicle.
  8. Leave deliveries at the door.
    If you will be making deliveries, try to avoid any human contact whenever possible. Instead, leave deliveries at the front door and send a message to the recipient when drop-off is complete.

Bottom line

The coronavirus pandemic may have changed the way we live and travel, but there are still many things that remain the same. The world still goes on, and there are everyday errands and doctor appointments that require Americans to travel.

It’s understandable that high-risk individuals may be hesitant to travel, but thanks to medical transportation options, there are still ways to meet your obligations while practicing safe habits. Your personal boundaries will ultimately dictate your comfort level surrounding travel, but it’s important to know that there are many, many resources available to help so you can still get where you need to go.

Don’t forget to do your part. If you are a passenger, be sure to exercise safe habits by wearing a mask, sitting in the backseat and regularly using hand sanitizer. If you are in a position to help, there are several local and national organizations that work to pair volunteers with those in need, whether it’s offering a ride or delivering critical supplies.