Uber pilot program provides free rides for recovering opioid addicts

No smartphone is necessary


CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) – With just a few clicks, Uber can get you to and from a destination safely.  NBC 12 reports that a new program through Chesterfield County in Virginia, Goodwill and Uber is hoping to make it easier for those in recovery for opioid addiction to get to and from treatment programs.

"Opioid treatment costs money. Transportation costs money. We want to eliminate any barrier to treatment for people," explained Sue Medeiros, with the county’s Mental Health Support Services Department. "There's often a very small window when the individual is open to treatment - so we have to be ready with whatever we have."

That preparedness now comes with being able to offer free Uber rides to and from treatment, the pharmacy or other approved locations, for those without transportation, thanks to a state grant funding the pilot program.

In a county where mass transit is not readily available, the program is seen to be the start of more options for those who are in need of transportation in the county. The county’s alternative transportation manager, Dawn Missory, says they are aware of the need and working on solutions to provide more readily-available door-to-door transportation.

"People these days want on-demand service. They don't want to get on a bus line and wait a half hour for a bus," said Missory. "Because of the ruralness of our county, that's how long it would take. A service like an on-demand service in the county, I think, would be very beneficial to the citizens - especially the elderly, the low-income, and the disabled."

Right now, with just a few weeks under its belt, the Uber pilot program has about 10 participants signed up. Four have been using the program, coordinating their rides through Goodwill, who says they act as the "dispatch" in some ways for those in the program.

"In this partnership with Chesterfield County, it has allowed Goodwill to understand - if we could take away that key barrier, how could we change the trajectory of the lives of those we are trying to help," said John Dougherty with Goodwill.

Dougherty says they arrange the rides. No smartphone is necessary. Instead, Goodwill communicates with Uber and Uber drivers, using profiles set up for each rider that include approved destinations. Goodwill is kept in the loop throughout the travel process to ensure everyone gets to and from where they need to be safely.

The rides are available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, Monday to Saturday. There are options to preschedule rides as well. As the program continues, they anticipate five to 10 people signing up per month.

If you are interested in recovery and treatments programs with Chesterfield County, contact Mental Health Support Services at 804-768-7318.