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New Program Offers Transportation to Gainesville Seniors

The City of Gainesville plans to launch a new transportation program targeted toward seniors ages 60 and up.

Freedom in Motion, which will begin its six-month pilot phase later this month, aims to provide Gainesville seniors with an alternate option for safe, reliable transportation.

The city partnered with ElderCare of Alachua County, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Uber to create the program.

“Seniors and their families love that, with a touch of a button, they can move safely and conveniently around the city,” said Uber operations manager Tony Spadafino, who spoke at a launch event at ElderCare Wednesday.

Freedom in Motion will operate much like any other Uber ride service -- seniors can access the Uber application on a smartphone, and Uber drivers will transport them to their selected destination.

Thanks to the city commission’s $15,000 investment, the project is subsidized, lowering the cost of a ride to a maximum of five dollars. ElderCare will also offer classes on how to use the app.

Although riders’ destinations can be all over the city, the pilot period has limited potential customers to residents of two neighborhoods -- Turkey Creek Forest on U.S. Highway 441 and the 400 Building in downtown Gainesville.

Mayor Ed Braddy said the city chose the two locations to get a good look at two different living patterns -- single-family suburban for Turkey Creek Forest and multi-use high-rise for the 400 Building.

“That’s going to give us a lot to look at in terms of where rides go, what times of day they’re utilized and all of that so that we can have a good sense of how to expand it community-wide,” Braddy said.

The city began Freedom in Motion in recognition of the growing senior population in the area and questioned how it could solve the problem of transporting this demographic. It was quickly decided that a transit-based approach would not work, according to Braddy.

When Braddy talked with students at UF on how they got around, the resounding response was Uber, which came to Gainesville in August of last year. Braddy then met with ElderCare executive director Anthony Clarizio to see if a similar transportation would work for his constitutes.

The program is designed to provide rides for seniors, but seniors can also participate in Freedom in Motion as drivers, such as Julie Anspach.

Anspach has worked as a driver since July, and said the program is good for seniors to utilize because it’s reliable.

“The buses don’t go everywhere,” she said. “I ride the buses. On Saturday, I can’t get home from downtown. They stop at 5 p.m.”

Her friend Angie Ferkovich, 70, isn’t planning on working as a driver, but she might end up becoming one of her customers.

“I’m going to be getting in late from the airport one night, about 10:30 p.m. or so,” Ferkovich said. “I’m thinking, ‘You know what, gee, I’d hate to take a taxi.’”

Over 200 seniors attended Wednesday’s launch event.

Layne is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.