Newton seniors have taken more than 4,700 trips around the city since a new ride service was introduced in June, according to the Department of Transportation Planning.
NewMo is an on-demand transportation service that provides affordable rides for seniors, subsidized by the city of Newton and provided by Via, an international shared transit company. More than 1,000 seniors have signed up for the service.
“Our goal is to provide seniors a better, rich, high-quality life,” said Nicole Freedman, the city’s director of transportation planning.
Freedman said the ride service also helps seniors comfortably give up their cars, contributing to the city’s mission to reduce carbon emissions.
Similar to other ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, the NewMo app provides the current location of a vehicle with live text updates. However, Jayne Colino, director of senior services, said most NewMo users do not take advantage of the app.
Currently, 20 percent of users request a ride through the app, while 80 percent go through the call center, according to the Department of Senior Services.
“[Seniors] have smartphones, but they don’t use the app,” said Colino, who plans to provide coaching on how to request a ride through the app once seniors get used to riding on NewMo.
Previously, the city’s transportation service for seniors was provided through Veterans Taxi and required reservations three days in advance.
“The biggest difference is the freedom people have. They can go out for lunch or just hang out spontaneously,” Colino said.
“I hate bugging people to ask for help, so NewMo really puts my mind at ease,” said Genevieve Marlin, who visits the Newton Senior Center every week and always carries a printed copy of NewMo’s Web page that shows the phone number of the call center.
Marlin has lived alone since her husband John passed away 10 years ago. She visits the senior center to stay engaged in the community.
“[The NewMo drivers] have been just helpful, wonderful, and patient,” she said, sitting on a couch at the senior center.
Marlin, who needs a walker due to previous hip injuries, said all drivers help her get into their vehicles, and some of them bring a step stool.
Designated a part of AARP Livable Communities Age-Friendly network in 2016, Newton has committed to accommodating residents over age 60, who account for more than 20 percent of the city’s total population. “Transportation is a key element to make the city age-friendly,” Colino said.
Ranging in price from 50 cents to $5, NewMo offers the lowest fares for those who use special services such as Mass Health and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“It’s a good system,” said William Gilbane, a 63-year-old regular NewMo user, who used Lyft occasionally to bring his groceries home before NewMo was available. “It’s funny to see my bank account because all transactions are 50 cents.”
Although he is satisfied with the overall service, Gilbane said he wants NewMo to extend hours of operation and recruit more drivers.
NewMo is currently available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon on weekends, and at least four drivers are on hand every day.
Colino said the city of Newton will expand and accommodate the service to achieve its goal of providing 25,000 rides this year, following the feedback from the NewMo users.
“We want [seniors] to engage in the community,” said Colino. “It’s a continuous improvement process.”
For those who need help loading or unloading their belongings, NewMo strongly encourages seniors to order door-to-door service when they request a ride.
“One day, I had a customer with 15 bundles, so I helped carry them up, spending an extra 10 or 15 minutes,” said Janice Bennett, who drives one of the four NewMo vehicles.
Colino said users spend less than 30 minutes waiting for a vehicle after they request a ride either through the app or the call center.
“Don’t wait with your pajamas because it’s likely to arrive earlier than you expect,” said Colino, who said that seniors use NewMo regularly for grocery shopping, medical appointments, and visits to village centers.
“Even in cities where public transportation is really strong, it often still falls short of properly serving seniors, a segment of the population that has an even greater need for reliable and effective public transit,” said Dillon Twombly, Via’s Chief Revenue Officer.