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Formerly the
Rural Assistance Center

SMiles Senior Transportation

Summary 
  • Need: Rural seniors who are no longer able to drive are often presented with the challenge of finding a means of transportation for medical visits, errands, and social gatherings.
  • Intervention: SMiles, a rural senior transportation program, was implemented in Blount County, Tennessee.
  • Results: Since 2013, SMiles has successfully provided over 18,000 rides to its rural seniors.
Description

SMiles (Senior Miles) is a volunteer rural transportation service by the Blount County Community Action Agency for seniors 60 or older in Blount County, Tennessee. It is a membership program, and each ride can be up to 3 hours long and include 2 stops.

There are limited options for low-cost transportation in this county, and the issue of transportation among seniors surfaced as a high priority at a 2012 county aging summit. Over 120 professionals representing local government, nonprofits, businesses, and churches attended the summit and agreed that this was a top priority. Soon after the summit, a Senior Action Council was formed, and the SMiles program was implemented within six months.

Assisted Rides, a web-based program, is the software that tracks all rides, client accounts, volunteer records, trips, and destinations. It takes the place of at least one full-time employee. Drivers log in to their account and assign themselves to the trips that they can provide. Approximately 90% of the trips are self-assigned in this way. Seniors must call SMiles to arrange a ride.

Funding is provided by:

  • Government transportation funds
  • The local United Way
  • Rider fees
  • Donations
Services offered

This program provides seniors with increased freedom and, in turn, an enhanced quality of life, as they are able to participate in normal daily activities around the community.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • 60 or older
  • No longer able to safely drive a vehicle
  • Able to walk with the assistance of a walker or cane
  • Able to communicate with the driver

Fees include:

  • Initial payment of $49 to cover the first year of membership and first 4 rides
  • $25 for the renewal of an annual membership
  • $6 for each ride

Volunteers receive a SMiles Volunteer Driver Handbook and go through 4 hours of training, which includes information on policies and procedures as well as senior sensitivity training.

Volunteer expectations:

  • Give at least one ride each month, which is a 3-hour commitment
  • Provide updated driver’s license and insurance information
Results

Since 2013, SMiles has successfully provided over 18,000 trips to medical appointments, supermarkets, and social events within Blount County. Of these rides:

  • Over 51% were for medical services
  • The remainder were trips to the following:
    • Hair salons
    • Grocery stores
    • Banks
    • Social gatherings
    • Volunteer work

Current statistics:

  • 109 volunteer drivers (average age of 66)
  • 35% of the drivers are men
  • 180 riders (average age of 81)

Volunteers have driven 92,000 miles and donated over 14,000 hours of their time, valued at $239,000.

In 2015, SMiles was featured in the AARP Bulletin. In 2017, the program received a STAR Award from the National Volunteer Transportation Center.

Barriers

Volunteer recruitment and retention are critical for program success. Drivers are urged to advocate on behalf of SMiles. Furthermore, riders can physically and mentally decline quite rapidly to the point where they are no longer capable of traveling with a volunteer.

Replication

The following SMiles forms are available for potential members as well as volunteers:

View a July 2014 National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) conference presentation to get a broader look into the SMiles program, its beginnings, and ways it is successfully serving the rural community.

Awareness of the SMiles program is spread through the county by:

  • Media
  • Area partners, including the Chamber of Commerce
  • Retirement communities
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Word of mouth
Read the following story for more information on the implementation of this rural transportation program: Reliable Transportation for Blount County Seniors Gets a New Set of Wheels with Launch of “SMiles”
Contact Information
Joani Shaver, Blount County Office on Aging Director
Blount County Community Action Agency
865.983.8411
jshaver@blountcaa.org
Topics
Aging and aging-related services
Elderly population
Transportation
States served
Tennessee
Date added
July 28, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
July 17, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.