Royal Palm Council Approves Two Programs For Seniors

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council unanimously approved two agenda items concerning senior citizens on Thursday, June 21 — funding for a contract with Lyft and the Young at Heart Senior Referral Program.

Soon special Lyft services will be available to Royal Palm Beach seniors seeking a ride within the boundaries of the village.

Though Lyft was the only ride service approved, Village Manager Ray Liggins explained that other services, such as Uber, will not necessarily be excluded from this new senior-ride program.

Lyft, however, has been responsive and cooperative with the village in order to get the ball rolling.

“Uber has programs targeting the senior community, so in the future, I might come back [to the council] with something about them, but for now, we need to get started with Lyft,” Liggins said.

The idea of partnering with ride-providing services like Lyft and Uber are so that seniors who no longer feel safe driving, or who simply would like a more convenient and effective way of getting around, can do so without depending on a bus or other method of public transportation.

“The program is intended to introduce the senior population to a safe, convenient and cost-effective alternative to driving. Ten years ago, if you lived in Royal Palm Beach and weren’t on a bus route, you didn’t have a whole lot of choices on how to get around,” Liggins said.

The program will offer discounted shared rides to the senior population 65 years or older in Royal Palm Beach in order to increase and facilitate senior mobility in the village. The village will pay half of each senior resident’s ride, up to $40 per month, per individual. The village has $40,000 budgeted for the program, which will amount to approximately 3,000 total rides.

Liggins compared the program to Wellington’s Senior Transportation and Rides (STAR) program.

“I know when we looked at our senior study, one of the things that was talked about a lot was the STAR program that Wellington has,” Liggins said. “This past year, it served 3,700 rides. So, I think the 3,000 we’re estimating right now is probably a good start.”

Rides will be a door-to-door service and will have to begin and end within Royal Palm Beach, or east along Okeechobee Blvd. to Jog Road, or south along State Road 7 to the Mall at Wellington Green.

When in place, seniors will be able to sign up for the program through the Parks & Recreation Department. Smart phones will also be a requirement for this program, as Lyft and most other ride services operate through smart phone applications.

“I think this is a good start,” said Liggins, who explained that he believes Lyft is working on a program to enable the use of flip phones for this, since Lyft and Uber see a huge market in providing seniors with rides.

Liggins also assured the council that all drivers have to pass Lyft’s background checks prior to providing public rides.

“I’m very excited about this,” Mayor Fred Pinto said. “It’s something we’ve all been working on for a number of months, and I’m glad to see we’re at a point of moving forward with this.”

Seniors can expect public notice of the program’s initiation on the village’s web site by July 1.

Also on the agenda regarding seniors was the Young at Heart Senior Referral Program. The council approved the modification of the club’s bylaws to include the new referral program.

As explained by Parks & Recreation Director Lou Recchio, the program will aid seniors by providing services of transportation and staff assistance.

The program will also meet other needs and concerns, such as issues seniors experience in healthcare, elder abuse and Social Security.

“What we are doing here is looking to put this senior referral program under the umbrella of Young at Heart, [which] is consistent with all of our other programs,” Recchio said.

Judy Kohler, who is one of the six members leading the referral program, thanked the council and village staff for their help and support throughout the process of getting the program together.

“We are now looking forward to [mapping] out a plan to do our marketing and outreach so that people are aware of us,” Kohler said. “We already have six volunteers and have put together a list of places where we need to go and [spread the word]. We are ready to see the bumps in the road and what works and what doesn’t.”

Pinto praised the volunteers for devoting their time to putting together a program that will help seniors beyond typical needs.

“Clearly, this is all about volunteerism,” he said. “The vision of the council eight or nine months ago was to see a volunteer program — that you have come up with — to be part of the Young at Heart model. And, believe me, you will get the kind of support to be effective and make a difference.”