Volunteer Drivers Decline as Rural Senior Population Grows

In rural communities where populations are increasingly older and seniors who no longer drive often rely on volunteers for transportation, a decline in the number of nonprofit volunteer drivers is affecting access to health care for many elderly adults.  Many volunteers are seniors themselves and when they can no longer drive, or bearing the costs associated with volunteering is no longer sustainable, they are forced to make the decision to stop providing rides. 

According to a recent Kaiser Health News report, as baby boomers age out of volunteer driving for seniors, Generation X will be next in line – but this cohort is much smaller and is expected to work longer.  Although many volunteer agencies that schedule drivers for seniors provide some stipend for gas, the rising cost of insurance and fuel and the wear and tear on vehicles may far outstrip any compensation.  In some cases, volunteer drivers also have difficulty proving to their insurance provider that they are indeed volunteers and not operating as a paid ride service like Uber or Lyft.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that 20 percent of rural residents are over 65 years of age, compared with 16 percent in urban areas.  A lack of public transportation or walkability in rural communities makes it difficult for older adults to access healthcare, social activities, and shop for groceries and other necessities.  In Canada, seniors aged 65 and over make up 18 percent of Canada’s rural population and more than a quarter of Canadian older adults live in rural areas, according to Statistics Canada 2019 data. 

Non-profits are looking to recruit younger volunteers, such as stay-at-home parents, to help fill the need for volunteer drivers.  Although rural communities hope to attract more young adults who work from home, many of these regions lack the schools, daycares, health care capacity, grocery stores, transportation and internet services that young families today require. In the American Midwest, small rural communities are offering financial incentives to draw younger workers, families and certain employers to their small towns. 

To learn more about transportation resources in your communities, contact a local agency on aging or dial 2-1-1 to find help.