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By: Erika CravenPosted at 9:21 PM, Jun 27, 2023 and last updated 9:52 PM, Jun 27, 2023

SUFFOLK, Va. — The senior population in Hampton Roads is growing by “leaps and bounds” according to Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia. They say the growth means an increased need for reliable transportation.

A new service is rolling out in Suffolk, I-Ride NOW. It’s meant to better connect older adults with their communities. It provides on-demand transportation to adults aged 60 plus.

In its pilot phase, I-Ride NOW extends a ten-mile radius.

Some people in Suffolk, like Margaret Wilson, know first-hand how difficult it can be to get groceries, to an appointment or visit friends without a car.

“I had no service,” she said. “No way to get to shopping, the grocery store, the bank. And I’d love to get my hair done right now and she says she can take me, and I am excited about that.”

Wilson’s not alone.

I-Ride NOW driver Denise Charlot said she’s become a link between older adults and the rest of the community.

“I met one of my riders the other day and she didn’t even know she could have someone take her to the mall. She says, ‘I’ve been wanting to go to Target forever.’ And she says, ‘I can’t drive.’ And I said, ‘I would love to take you to Target’,” Charlot said.

I-Ride NOW takes riders to any place they want to go in the test area.

“They need to be able to get the food they need. They need to be able to get out because sometimes they don’t have anyone at home,” Charlot said. “And that’s like a community just to be able to see us, see people in the store, talk to people in the store, and it just makes them feel a part.”

Charnitta Waters, the senior director of operations of Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, said it highlights the importance of access to transportation.

Waters said there’s a growing risk of social isolation and subsequent issues if people can’t interact with their community.

“As we know Hampton Roads covers a broad range of territory and there are structural barriers to transportation by providing them the transportation to make those connections, we in turn are trying to help support and address the social isolation,” said Waters.

Water also said there’s a need for micro-transit like the I-Ride NOW service, which is free during the test phase.

“We really focused on the Harborview area because there’s a significant amount of both medical facilities, senior living facilities as well as just shops,” said Cory Hitner, the transportation manager for Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia.

Riders said knowing they have a ride brings a sense of relief.

“It just feels so great, like ‘oh I can go there,’ instead of thinking ‘how am I going to get there’?” Margaret Wilson said.

In the future, Senior Services plans to expand the program to other cities on Southside and Western Tidewater.