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Developing and Sustaining Volunteer Driver Programs as an Effective Mode of Low-Cost Accessible Transportation


Volunteer driver programs can be an alternative means to accommodate the unmet mobility needs of older adults and other transportation-disadvantaged people in rural communities in particular where transit, paratransit and taxi services are limited or cost prohibitive. There is considerable potential for these programs to be implemented or expanded on a coordinated basis to provide low-cost and accessible transportation in underserved or unserved communities; however, there is limited understanding of what makes a successful, sustainable and replicable volunteer driver program. The collective body of knowledge surrounding volunteer driver programs is case-study or anecdotal in nature, with little, if any, scientific exploration of the operational, organizational and human factors which differentiate them from transit, paratransit or taxi voucher program. This has led to a lack of understanding of the potential for success and the scalability and replicability of volunteer driver programs to meet the growing demand for specialized transportation services (e.g. as older baby boomers transition from drivers to passengers and an increasing number of persons with a disability). Internal and external factors associated with successful recruiting and retention of volunteer drivers and (e.g. insurance coverage and liability issues) are crucial to understand. There is also the need to understand how these programs support a person’s trip-making, their effectiveness in meeting broader mobility needs of older adults and other transportation-disadvantaged people, and their potential contribution to public safety by facilitating the transition of a medically-at-risk driver. The anecdotal approach to understanding these programs means there is a lack of an accepted taxonomy to classify these programs to facilitate comparison among programs. Without a clear systematic understanding of volunteer driver programs as a mode of transportation, it will be difficult to examine the programs’ potential and to identify successful and sustainable models to replicate and promote. Given that many prospective programs (especially in rural areas) would fall under the purview of not-for-profit agencies with limited resources for surveys and research, a forecasting tool would be an efficient means to evaluate the potential of the service, conserving volunteer efforts. It could also form part of a decision-support tool for agencies considering various operational, organizational and human factors to improve their programs.


The objectives of a national research effort are to:

  1. Catalogue the knowledge gaps with respect to volunteer driver programs by assembling and synthesizing existing literature and data sources;

  2. Understand the operational, regulatory and legal landscape for volunteer driver programs on a state-by-state basis;

  3. Conduct systematic analyses on the factors that contribute to the success and sustainability of volunteer driver programs;

  4. Establish the framework for an operational model to forecast the potential success, and ridership of a volunteer driver program at a local or regional level.


The growing population of older drivers, in rural communities in particular, presents challenges and opportunities that require immediate action. The largest challenge is that the health effects of aging can make driving difficult or impossible over time, yet few alternatives exist in rural communities where older individuals tend hold on to their driver’s licenses longer than their urban counterparts and age in place. Volunteer driver programs appear to have many elements which can appeal to older adults and potential to be a feasible alternative of special transportation services in an aging society. However, extensive and systematic research on what makes volunteer driver programs successful has been limited. The proposed study will produce a critical reference for the development and enhancement of volunteer driver programs for communities in need.

Related Research:

There has been growing research that has highlighted the transportation challenges associated with a car-dependent aging population, yet there has been limited research on transportation alternatives that may facilitate the transition from driver to passenger. For example, approximately 80% of Americans and 75% of Canadians aged 65 years and older are licensed drivers (Federal Highway Administration, 2011) (Turcotte, 2012), yet the health effects of aging can make driving difficult or impossible over time. While the impacts of transitioning away from driving is particular pronounced for older adults living in rural areas where few alternatives to driving exist, they will only be magnified on a societal basis in the future: the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the population of adults aged 65 years and older will nearly double from 43 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050, representing nearly 20% of the population (Ortman, Velkoff, & Hogan, 2014). The projections are more pronounced for Canada, where the senior population is expected to nearly triple from 4.2 million in 2005 to 11.5 million 2056, representing 27% of the population (Turcotte & Schellenberg, 2006).

Researchers such as Coughlin (2009) have made calls to be proactive to the anticipated transportation needs and wants of older adults, though the policy response by governments has typically been at the licensing level, with calls for age-based licensing restrictions (Staplin & Hunt, 2004). The effectiveness of these responses for rural drivers has been questioned when viewed in context of detailed exposure information showing drivers avoiding the situations (driving after dark, driving on freeways) that would typically be subject to such restrictions (Hanson & Hildebrand, 2011a). The availability of alternatives appears to be the cornerstone of any policy to transition older drivers to passengers, though the transition needs to be approached in a “timely and personally acceptable way” (Rudman, Friedland, Chipman, & Sciortino, 2006). Yet, aside from case studies, there is limited scientific research of community transportation alternatives, such as volunteer driver programs, which will likely be expected to fill the travel void for those unable to transport themselves.

Friends and family (rather than taxis and transit) tend to be the first choice for those seeking alternatives (Coughlin 2009, Donorfio et al. 2008, Hanson and Hildebrand 2011c, Taylor and Tripodes 2001). The problem is that a confluence of demographic and other factors in North America are likely to make it more difficult for older adults to rely exclusively on friends and family, and by extension, governments who implicitly rely on the ability of older adults to secure their own transportation to access services such as healthcare. The increase in older adult population is also occurring during a time of smaller family sizes than in the past, with 1.9 children born per woman, and average household sizes of 2.9 people (Statistics Canada 2012). These issues are magnified in rural areas where issues of outmigration of youth and service regionalization mean fewer people available to provide transportation, and when people are available, they are called upon to drive farther to access services.

There are approaches to develop transportation alternatives that replicate the conditions that make travelling with friends and family more attractive than transit, such as on-demand service, help in and out of the vehicle, and knowing the driver, all attributes associated with volunteer driver programs.

Given these services’ potential to support older driver safety and mobility, the lack of data and proven methodologies necessary for incorporating these services into transportation engineering practice highlights the importance of looking at these services through a transportation engineering lens. This can help us understand the scalability of these models for addressing social policy needs as it is unclear where a local initiative starts to transition into a regional transportation solution, and whether it can survive the transition.

Programs such as the senior-focused, volunteer driver-based Independent Transportation Network of America (ITN America) founded by Katherine Freund, are opportunities to be the medium to facilitate the transition from driver to passenger (Freund & McKnight, 1997). In the case of ITN America, this is done without government funding.

Noted pioneer in older driver mobility research in the United States, Sandra Rosenbloom, highlights the challenge with these services when considering their role in transportation engineering and planning: “[W]e have no good data on who is provided rides, how often, and how much these transportation services cost” (2009). This is also true in Canada, where census travel data is commuter focused, and Canadian Community Health Survey data is overly broad for transportation planning purposes. The Beverly Foundation produced a database of more than 800 STPs (Supplemental Transportation Programs for seniors) of which almost 400 are volunteer driver programs (now housed by the National Volunteer Transportation Center (http//:nationalvolunteertransportationcenter.org)). The Foundation also piloted a low-cost, low-maintenance model of volunteer driver transportation delivery (Volunteer Friends) that requires limited infrastructure and limited operational funding. The National Volunteer Transportation Center has indicated on its website its commitment to continuing research, though it appears to be in terms of promising practices rather than a scientific evaluation of success factors (NVTC, 2015).

Some older studies have explored the role of volunteer driver programs within the context of the broader transportation system:

· Care-A-Van and Saint: Addition of Volunteer Division to Model System (1991)

· Evaluation of the Specialized, Volunteer Transportation Program of the Area IV Agency on Aging and Community Service (1987)

· Analysis of Volunteer Driver Systems in Rural Public Transportation (1979)

The challenge is that these studies were completed 25 – 35 years ago before the societal need existed to engage these models to facilitate the mass transition of an aging driver population to being passengers. The understanding of volunteer driver programs from an engineering and scientific perspective is now necessary to facilitate their incorporation into standard transportation planning processes and expedite their development in a systematic and scientific manner.


1) The proposed research will include a review of the literature in order to ascertain what policies, procedures, and other programmatic elements are currently thought to foster or thwart the success of volunteer driver programs. It will be relevant to look at existing research on transportation options, volunteer drivers, older adult and rural transportation options in general.

2) The study should develop a comprehensive, nationally representative, database of existing volunteer driver programs that includes (but is not limited to) the following information:

· Demographic characteristics of service area

· Spatial distribution of the transportation disadvantaged in service area

· The built environment of service area

· Presence and service level of specialized transportation services, including paratransit

· Operational type of volunteer driver programs

· Funding sources

Research is also needed to solicit feedback directly from existing users and volunteers, including their stated preferences regarding operational elements of the program, and factors influencing their participation with the program.

3) The proposed study will develop a model to quantitatively analyze various factors associated with the success of volunteer driver programs. The performance measures of volunteer driver programs (e.g., number of trips per user and per volunteer driver) need to be developed. While sophisticated planning tools and models exist to predict traffic volume and transit usage from demographic and other data, no such tools exist to support the development of volunteer driver programs. Additional model also needs to be developed for the demand analysis of the programs.


This study is in line with 2008 TCRP strategic research goals of increasing ridership (complementary or sole provision of volunteer services creates ride opportunities to meet needs) and capital and operating efficiency (volunteer programs cost less to operate). It also supports the TCRP strategic priorities of placing the customer first (directing volunteer transportation to meet targeted needs) and flourishing in a multimodal environment (volunteer operations are another mode which can complement public and private services). Volunteer driver programs have become a key component in many coordinated community transportation plans and services that have resulted from the FTA’s United We Ride initiatives, SAFETEA-LU requirements, and policy statements from the Federal Inter-Agency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility. Volunteer driver programs are also key to the mobility of older adults, and sometimes are the only viable means of public/agency transportation in rural America.

Sponsoring Committee:ABE60, Accessible Transportation and Mobility
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Trevor R. Hanson, PhD, P.Eng Assistant Professor Department of Civil Engineering P.O. Box 4400 University of New Brunswick Fredericton, Canada, E3B 5A3 Ph: 506-453-4521 Fx: 506-453-3568 www.unb.ca/civil
Source Info:References
1. Beverly Foundation. (2008). Volunteer Driver Programs Fact Sheet Series Vol 1 (6).
2. Coughlin, J. F. (2009). Longevity, lifestyle, and anticipating the new demands of aging on the transportation system. Public Works Management & Policy, 13(4), 301-311.
3. Donorfio, L. K. M., Mohyde, M., Coughlin, J., & D'Ambrosio, L. (2008). A Qualitative Exploration of Self-Regulation Behaviors Among Older Drivers. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 20(3), 323-339. doi: 10.1080/08959420802050975
4. Institute of Transportation Engineers. (1999). Transportation planning handbook. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers.
5. Federal Highway Administration. (2011). Highway Statistics 2011. Washington, D.C.: Office of Highway Policy Information Retrieved from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2011/dl22.cfm.
6. Foley, D. J., Heimovitz, H. K., Guralnik, J. M., & Brock, D. B. (2002). Driving life expectancy of persons aged 70 years and older in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 92(8), 1284-1289.
7. Freund, K., & McKnight, J. (1997). Independent Transportation Network: Alternative Transportation for the Elderly.
8. Hanson, T. R., & Hildebrand, E. D. (2011a). Are age-based licensing restrictions a meaningful way to enhance rural older driver safety? The need for exposure considerations in policy development. Traffic Inj Prev, 12(1), 24-30. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2010.524957
9. Hanson, T. R., & Hildebrand, E. D. (2011b). Can rural older drivers meet their needs without a car? Stated adaptation responses from a GPS travel diary survey. Transportation, 38(6), 975-992. doi: 10.1007/s11116-011-9323-3
10. Mollenkopf, H., Marcellini, F., Ruoppila, I., Széman, Z., Tacken, M., & Wahl, H.-W. (2004). Social and behavioural science perspectives on out-of-home mobility in later life: findings from the European project MOBILATE. European Journal of Ageing, 1(1), 45-53.
11. Ortman, J., Velkoff, V., & Hogan, H. (2014). An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, Current Population Reports. (P25-1140). Washington, D.C.: Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf.
12. Rudman, D. L., Friedland, J., Chipman, M., & Sciortino, P. (2006). Holding On and Letting Go: The Perspectives of Pre-seniors and Seniors on Driving Self-Regulation in Later Life. Canadian Journal on Aging/La Revue canadienne du vieillissement, 25(01), 65-76. doi: doi:10.1353/cja.2006.0031
13. Staplin, L., & Hunt, L. (2004). Driver programs. Transportation in an ageing society: A Decade of Experience, Proceedings, 27, 69-96.
14. Statistics Canada. (2007). New Brunswick (Code13) (table). 2006 Community Profiles. 2006 Census. Ottawa: Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/prof/92-591/index.cfm?Lang=E.
15. Statistics Canada. (2011a). 2011 Census of Canada. Ottawa, Canada: Government of Canada Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2011/geo/index-eng.cfm.
16. Statistics Canada. (2011b). Population, urban and rural, by province and territory (New Brunswick). Retrieved Feb 19, 2014 http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo62e-eng.htm
17. Taylor, B. D., & Tripodes, S. (2001). The effects of driving cessation on the elderly with dementia and their caregivers. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 33(4), 519-528. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0001-4575(00)00065-8
18. Transportation Research Board. (2014). Research Needs Statement: Maximizing Benefits and Addressing Challenges of Volunteer Driver Transportation Programs. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from http://rns.trb.org/dproject.asp?n=15380.
19. Turcotte, M. (2012). Profile of seniors’ transportation habits. Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada(11-008-X).
20. Turcotte, M., & Schellenberg, G. (2006). A portrait of seniors in Canada (Catalogue no. 89-519-XIE). Retrieved from Statistics Canada website: http://www. statcan. gc. ca/pub/89-519-x/89-519-x2006001-eng. pdf.
Date Posted:06/15/2015
Date Modified:07/07/2015
Index Terms:Paratransit services, Drivers, Volunteers, Mobility, Accessibility, Sustainable transportation, Persons with disabilities, Transportation disadvantaged persons, Aged, Taxi services,
Cosponsoring Committees:AP060, Paratransit
Public Transportation
Safety and Human Factors
Transportation (General)

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