Free Rides To Treatment Courtesy Of Uber & Goodwill

By Paul Gaita 04/04/18

The pilot program was launched in part because of the lack of mass transit options in one Virginia county.

man talking to driver

A new pilot program seeks to give individuals in recovery a helping hand with free rides to and from treatment programs. The program is a joint effort between Goodwill, Uber and health support services in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and requires no smartphone to access a ride. Instead, as Gizmodo noted, Goodwill acts as a "dispatch" for the program participant by setting up travel to a pre-approved destination.

Ten people have signed up, with four currently using the pilot program, which is estimated to gain up to 10 more users per month.

The program, which is funded by a state grant, was launched in part because of the lack of mass transit options in Chesterfield County, located south of the state's capital of Richmond. For those without access to a car, bus service could require a wait of 30 minutes or more.

"Because of the ruralness of our county, that's how long it would take," said the county's alternative transportation manager, Dawn Missory. "An on-demand service in the county, I think, would be very beneficial to the citizens, especially the elderly, the low-income and the disabled." 

Finances were also a roadblock to be considered in regard to the pilot program. "Opioid treatment costs money. Transportation costs money," said Sue Medeiros, a spokesperson for the county's Mental Health Support Services Department. "There's often a very small window when the individual is open to treatment, so we have to be ready with whatever we have."

To that end, Goodwill saw an opportunity in Chesterfield County to make an impact on residents beyond its traditional means of charitable support.

"[The program] has allowed Goodwill to understand: if we could take away that key barrier, how could we change the trajectory of the lives of those we are trying to help?" said Goodwill spokesperson John Dougherty.

Currently, rides are available for free to program participants from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and can be scheduled in advance, if necessary.

Participants create an online profile that includes pre-approved destinations, and when a ride is needed, they reach out directly to Goodwill. The company, in turn, contacts Uber and Uber drivers, who take the program members to one of their approved destinations. The entire trip is overseen by Goodwill to ensure that riders get to and from locations safely.

Gizmodo reached out to Uber to see if plans had been established to expand the pilot program to other cities via its Uber Health program, which coordinates rides for patients and caregivers, including those without a smartphone. The company did not respond prior to the story's publication date on March 31.

Chesterfield County residents interested in participating in the program can contact Mental Health Support Services at 804-768-7318.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.