At just five years since its inception, Uber has revolutionized how we get a ride from Point A to Point B. It has become a household name, and has been valued at an estimated $18 billion. And now, the company is taking aim at the way seniors get around.

Tuesday, the San Francisco-based ride service company announced San Diego is the latest city to provide transportation services specifically for the elderly and individuals living with disabilities as part of its UberWAV and uberASSIST ride offerings.

The platform allows those needing an “extra hand or access to wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) to request safe and reliable rides at the tap of a button,” Uber stated in Tuesday’s announcement of the new services available to San Diego residents.

In San Diego, the new services look to fill several crucial gaps in the city’s current transportation system for seniors and people with disabilities, said Chris Ballard, general manager of Uber San Diego.

“We’re trying to provide San Diegans with additional transportation options,” Ballard told SHN. “We want to be the face that’s most reliable, convenient and cost-effective around town.”

How it works

Individuals access the services just as they would a standard Uber ride via the company’s smartphone app, only now they will select “UberWAV” on the vehicle icon slider. UberWAV allows users to select a vehicle based on their needs by choosing between two options: UberWAV or uberASSIST.

Drivers of UberWAV vehicles are specially authorized by Uber as knowledgeable of accessibility needs and are accommodating for riders who require wheelchair accessible vehicles with a ramp or hydraulic lift for transportation.

uberASSIST, on the other hand, is designed for additional assistance for members of the senior and disabled communities. Drivers of uberASSIST vehicles are specifically trained to assist riders into the vehicles and can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers, scooters or other mobility equipment devices. It is important to note, however, that these vehicles do not have accessible ramps.

The new products have rolled out to join Ubers in some cities that are specifically equipped with car seats for family travel, uberXL cars that can accommodate more passengers, and other products.

Coming to a city near you

To make these service offerings available to San Diego’s senior and disabled communities, Uber has partnered with Access to Independence, a non-profit organization that provides services to seniors and disabled individuals to help them maintain their independence and remain in their communities for as long as possible.

Prior to launching these services, Uber spoke with various members of the community to find out their existing “pain points” with San Diego’s current transportation options, some of which included timeliness of services, Ballard said.

“In some cases, it can be a 24-hour pre-arrangement period that’s required,” he said. “To break down that barrier, we’re trying to provide an on-demand option where we can now offer that same service in 15 minutes.”

With uberASSIST, drivers under the company’s lower cost UberX division, which launched in 2012, have received training from representatives of Access to Independent on the necessary knowledge and safety requirements for those with accessibility needs, the company said in a written statement.

While with UberWAV, the company said it is currently growing the wheelchair accessible vehicle supply in efforts to transform disabled transit by allowing on-demand pickups within minutes instead of days.

The launch of these senior-friendly, accessibility services in San Diego follow similar initiatives launched by Uber in New York City, Houston and Philadelphia in the last few months.

Ballard, who shared with SHN that his past work includes a role as an analyst for Health Care REIT (NYSE: HCN), said that as seniors go through the aging process, they can continue to use a variety of Uber services regardless of what their transportation needs might be.

“Via the same smartphone app, Uber can provide different options to every single person in the [CCRC] community whether it’s our X, XL, Black or SUV product offerings in the independent living segment,” he said. “And as people advance through the acuteness spectrum, we can provide the WAV and ASSIST options.”

As for the price, considering a senior population that grapples with fixed incomes, rates for UberWAV are about 30% cheaper than San Diego’s existing transportation options, said Ballard, adding that although uberASSIST is under the company’s standard UberX rates, fares are still about 40% less than the cost of an average taxi.

To date, Uber provides services in over 200 cities across 45 countries worldwide. As of September 16, the company has been valued at over $15 billion, according to The New York Times.

Written by Jason Oliva