Some programs provide transportation services to passengers by engaging volunteers to serve as drivers. Volunteer drivers often use their own vehicles to transport passengers. Volunteer drivers typically provide door-to-door assistance, which can involve picking up passengers at a specific address, dropping them off at their destination, waiting for the duration of their appointment, and providing support depending on the passenger's needs. This type of service can be particularly beneficial for older passengers or passengers with disabilities who may have difficulties with waiting at a curb, walking to a bus stop, or climbing the steps of a bus or large van.
Typically, volunteer models have a sponsoring agency that is responsible for recruiting drivers, conducting background checks, providing training, and managing schedules of volunteer drivers. The sponsoring agency then calls upon a volunteer to provide transportation to an eligible rider.
Rural communities have implemented 3 types of reimbursement strategies for volunteer driver models: volunteering without reimbursement, trip/time banking, and mileage reimbursement.
Volunteering Without Reimbursement for Time or Mileage
In this model, volunteers contribute their time, drive their own vehicles, and provide their own gasoline without receiving any type of reimbursement. For example, the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery volunteer driving program provides transportation to and from cancer treatment for people who do not have a ride or cannot drive themselves. Programs typically retain a pool of volunteers from which to recruit and organize transportation.
Trip Banking/Time Banking
In this model, volunteers can bank the time they spend providing services. For example, if a volunteer driver spends five hours providing transportation for someone, they can use those five hours for obtaining their own transportation at another time. Volunteers may also have an option of donating their earned hours to someone else. In addition, some programs allow volunteers to exchange hours driven for other goods or services, like housekeeping or financial services.
Volunteer Mileage Reimbursement Programs
In this model, volunteer drivers track their mileage in order to receive reimbursement. The amount of reimbursement varies by program – some programs may reimburse in accordance with the government's mileage reimbursement rate, while others may pay volunteers per trip, up to a limited amount, or with non-monetary incentives.
Examples of Volunteer Models
- The Vernon County Volunteer Driver Program, which provides door-to-door services to requested destinations, is available to all Vernon County, Wisconsin residents. Passengers in need of additional assistance can request to bring an escort or attendant who is able to ride free of charge. Riders' copayments are based on mileage.
- The National Patient Travel Center provides information and referrals for long-distance, medically-related transportation. Services include a helpline that provides screenings and referrals, discounted airline tickets for patients and their escorts, volunteer pilots for air travel, and assistance with long-distance ground transportation.
- Footprints in the Sky is a nonprofit corporation that provides free flights to patients who need transportation to medical facilities in rural Colorado. Flights are provided for patients in need of routine, critical, and life-saving medical assistance.
- Angel Flight West offers free non-emergency flights for patients with serious medical conditions or other needs. Find out more about this program in the Models and Innovations section of the RHIhub website.
- The New Freedom Transportation Program, implemented by the Center for Independent Living for Western Wisconsin, Inc. uses volunteer drivers to provide rides to the elderly and people with disabilities. Transportation is provided for medical appointments, shopping, and social/recreational activities. Volunteer drivers are reimbursed at the federal rate. Riders in the 18-county service area can request services or get referrals via the New Freedom Transportation One Call Center.
Considerations for Implementation
Volunteer-provided services are dependent upon the availability and schedule of the volunteer drivers. There may be communities where volunteers are the only source of transportation available or where they are the only transportation available on certain days of the week or times of day (for instance, weekends and after normal business hours). In some instances, volunteers may be the only option due to the nature of the trip. For example, agency-specific transit may be available to and from medical appointments but not for tasks like grocery shopping or other social engagement activities.
Volunteer models are often discussed hand-in-hand with voucher models, as the voucher system can be a way to reimburse volunteer drivers.
There may be liability issues associated with volunteer driving programs. Sponsoring organizations should carefully consider what type and level of insurance they should carry when implementing a volunteer driving program.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
National Volunteer Transportation
The National Volunteer Transportation Center provides a wide array of resources for the development and implementation of volunteer driving programs, including a “find a program” tab that lists volunteer transportation providers by state or nationwide. They also have recorded webinars on adapting volunteer models in communities, online training for volunteer drivers, driver recruitment info, a list of foundations that have funded volunteer programs, a fact sheet, and a collection of personal stories.
Programs that Match Seniors with Volunteer
Drivers: Practical Recommendations for Organizations and Policy Makers
This report examines several volunteer driving programs nationwide and provides recommendations for improving risk management, recruiting volunteers, and sustaining volunteer transportation programs for seniors.
Author(s): Hendricks, S.J., Audino, M.J., Okin, P.O., & Biernacky, A.
Organization(s): State of Florida Department of Transportation