On a sunny Friday morning, Ron McConnell places a step in front of his shuttle. He holds seniors’ hands one by one as they carefully climb off and ready their shopping bags.
“There you are young lady, enjoy,” McConnell smiles to one passenger. “Don’t buy up the whole store this time.”
The woman laughs back and wanders inside. Today’s destination is Walmart.
Sandra Evans, 86 just moved to National Church Residences at Avondale a couple of months ago. She was excited to hear the Dublin senior living community would start offering free shuttle rides.
“I take advantage of every opportunity that comes up,” Evans says.
She regularly takes the shuttle to places like the grocery store and movie theatre. Since Evans can’t drive, taking the bus helps her maintain her independence.
“I have family, but I don’t like to depend on them for everything, and this is so convenient,” Evans says. “Because I live right over in the cottage, so I can walk over and get the bus.”
The city of Dublin is getting older: Its fastest growing age group is between 65-74 years old. In a 2017 report Dublin published called "Aging In Place," Dublin predicted that age range would grow from 1,896 people in 2010 to 3,258 in 2018, an increase of 71.8%.
Those shifting demographics pushed the city to work with the private microtransit company SHARE to pilot a circulator, helping elderly residents get out of their homes and around town.
"Privately Subsidized" Transportation
SHARE CEO Ryan McManus says people don’t realize how common micotransit services already are.
“Microtransit is the proverbial forest that no one sees. It’s a huge market no one sees,” McManus explains. “It’s made up of the school bus network, the senior community that has a couple of vans, the employer that’s got a van to try to give their employees access to work.”
Rather than open itself to everyone in the community, like COTA does, SHARE searches for people who are going to the same place at the same time and creates routes based off user requests.
“We have three loops that run through the city of Dublin,” McManus says. “And on each loop somebody can get to a restaurant, grocery store, pharmacy and hairdresser.”
When the pilot launched in January, all the routes were fixed. But a few months in, SHARE changed two of its loops to on-demand scheduling.
Dublin urban designer Joanne Shelly says as an affluent suburb, the city looks for more of a concierge-type service from public transportation.
“I think in the future we’re going to see that microtransit is how suburban communities are going to connect to their core cities,” Shelly says.
Right now, an average of eight seniors per day use the circulator. City officials call the funding model "privately subsidized." The city of Dublin pays $50 per hour for SHARE to operate in the city, and in exchange the shuttle runs four hours a day, three days a week.
The seniors using the shuttle, however, pay nothing at all.
"We are not trying to provide medical or non-emergency medical transportation," Shelly says. "We are specifically focused on quality of life."
Shelly says local businesses along the loop also invest in the circulator.
“Individually, we’ve also had some businesses, and one of them is Kilwin’s,” Shelly says. “And they said they’ve seen, I think a 50% increase in sales during the hours of operation for the senior circulator.”
"It's A Godsend"
The Dublin Senior Circulator launched as a six-month pilot in January. That means the program finishes at the end of June.
“We’re hoping if we have the capacity to continue past the pilot, we’ll see more adoption from some of our HOAs, which is the longterm goal,” Shelly says. “To have people be able to stay in their homes and as well as have more freedom from the residential facilities.”
The city has 118 homeowner associations. The pilot launched with just four of Dublin’s 15 senior communities, and has since expanded to seven.
If the program survives past the pilot, senior Carolyn Walker will be relieved.
“It’s a godsend. I don’t know what we would do without it,” Walker says. “We do have Uber occasionally, but going free is much better than paying Uber.”
“I think it’s a wonderful service, so I hope they continue it,” she says.
When the pilot finishes at the end of the month, the city and SHARE plan to meet with Dublin City Council in July to discuss its continuation. The company is also exploring a workforce circulator route in Dublin, and partnering with schools and senior living communities in Cleveland.