New Company Makes Inroads in Helping Tennesseans Fill Gaps in Transportation
By Josh Massey
Tennessee is finding new ways to adapt technology to address long-standing transportation issues and is working with an innovative company to make that technology available and more affordable to people with disabilities.
Soon after Uber and Lyft started in the California Bay Area, the two companies were piloting their new model in Chicago. I was one of the first to embrace idea of using Uber and Lyft while running my recruiting company and became friends with some of the first drivers. I was fascinated with the business model and knew they’d change transportation forever. The combination of the Global Positioning System used for navigation and the ability to connect immediately on smart phones allowed for a new way to use existing resources: people who already owned cars and wanted to earn money.
When I visited my grandmother in Wisconsin, I learned she was taking van trips to see my grandfather in a memory care facility. I thought five hours spent traveling for a one-hour visit wasn’t a good way for her to spend her later years. I began to wonder, could we use the same drivers in small, trusting networks with this new technology and the new laws that were created to allow it? Shortly thereafter, Wisconsin became the first state in the Midwest to pass the laws for rideshare. In 2017, I started a company called Carepool.
I then learned that the city of Madison, WI, has had the highest levels of unemployment for people with disabilities for more than 40 years, and much of this was because of the city’s transportation system. Dane county disability and transportation experts brought me in on a grant, and our focus was to solve transportation gaps for people with disabilities. This is where the concept of matching drivers with passengers was created so that relationships could be formed.
In assisting individuals on the autism spectrum with transportation to their employment, we have seen positive changes for many. When someone is able to practice building relationships with their drivers, they then have less anxiety and more confidence in their employment situation. Our studies have also shown that when individuals (or members, as we call our riders) know their driver is going to be on time, and they won’t have to wait around for hours, they are much less likely to miss a doctor’s appointment. Adding the ability to make stops at the grocery store or pharmacy can also keep trips efficient.
I was lucky to have met Harold Sloves, the director of the Division of Program Innovation at Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, when we were both presenting at the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities in Denver, CO, during its annual conference on disability and technology. Carepool is now proud to be part of the “Technology First” movement for people with disabilities, alongside the state of Tennessee.
During the pandemic, Carepool has worked with DIDD to add grocery delivery to our software platform, in addition to ordering rides in Middle Tennessee. The company’s next projects are focused on social determinants of health, which is the concept that the ZIP Code in which someone lives is a stronger predictor of overall health versus race or genetics. Carepool’s rideshare product will change these outcomes by providing reliable transportation for both medical and non-medical needs, reducing missed appointments and ensuring access to grocery and pharmacy.
New technology brings innovative solutions to address the support staff shortage and allow members to live more independently. A new model for people with disabilities includes a partnership with a remote monitoring services company, Night Owl Support Systems, www.nossllc.com. Our drivers provide both scheduled and on-demand responses crafted to an individuals’ need in their home to allow them more independence. Many would not need to have an in-home caregiver if they had the ability to call and talk to support staff who will answer 24/7/365 and the safety of a caregiver who can show up within 15 minutes. Our drivers have a caring profile and will be able to respond to these needs as they would a ride request in our software.
Our next technology feature will allow members to book rides using voice technology with saved locations instead of typing the addresses each time into the app. They can call in or use the app to say, “Book me a ride from home to work for Monday,” and Google voice responds to booking the ride, repeating the day and time while sending a text confirmation with the booking details. This means that someone could call from a landline or cell phone to book their rides even if they are not comfortable using a smart phone or don’t have internet access.
Carepool is now available in Wisconsin and Tennessee for rides to work, medical appointments or everyday integration into our communities in ways that many of us take for granted. Our company provides real-time communication between a driver and a rider with special instructions for the pickup. We have hopeful plans to grow throughout the state and support the Medicaid waiver programs for medical rides, along with ECF Choices for community inclusion rides under managed Medicaid. And Carepool is able to cross county lines, which is often a huge barrier for people with disabilities needing transportation.
Bridging the gap between technology and transportation allows for greater independence and lets individuals with disabilities do things many of us take for granted. Access to mobility is a great equalizer, and the goal is to give everyone the same opportunities.
We’re also looking for feedback and participants! We are looking for participant groups who would like to get involved in testing our ridesharing app or have specific ride needs, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
My thanks to Josh for taking the time to write about his company and his plans to help increase transportation options for people with disabilities in Tennessee. As we hear over and over, transportation is a huge barrier for people with disabilities who want to work. We know that rural areas face some of the toughest issues with transportation, but even urban and suburban areas deal with long waits, the need to schedule far in advance, physical accessibility, safety concerns and cost issues. My hope is that Josh and his company can make a meaningful difference for many Tennesseans with disabilities. While my usual parting remarks offer to answer any questions you have, for this post, I would encourage you to contact Josh at the email address above if you have questions or concerns. Thank you for reading!
Josh Massey is the president and founder of Carepool. Josh grew up in rural Wisconsin as a transportation dork; he drove tractors/mowers and go-carts, and he studied aviation at an early age. He realized he wanted to become an entrepreneur after studying economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Josh began his career in Chicago with technology recruiting and gained 15 years of experience working with high-growth tech start-ups. In 2010, his career became focused on transportation technology after he founded Blueline Consulting, a company in which his engineers created mapping systems for the automaker BMW. This led to the creation of transportation software products. Josh became interested in working with those with disabilities after seeing the huge need for improved transportation.
September 1, 2020