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Popular Ride-Hailing Services Now Take Requests Without the App

Uber answers calls; users of special phones can book a Lyft​


spinner image an illustration showing a phone with the call icon surrounded by different colored cars
Getty Images

Not everyone is comfortable using a smartphone app to summon a ride to the grocery store, a doctor’s office or a visit with friends and family. 

With older adults in mind, Uber, the most popular ride-hailing service, has rolled out a solution without software. Uber rides can now be booked by calling a toll-free number, says the company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi.

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Uber conducted months of testing in places where older riders gather and spoke directly with those it expected to use the service.

“Not everyone is comfortable using a phone or an app to call an Uber, like my mother-in-law,” he said in 2023. “And for her we have a product that’s incredibly easy to use. It’s 833-USE-UBER.”

Uber has about 75 percent of the ride-hailing market in the United States, far ahead of chief rival Lyft, which has about a quarter share, according to March 2024 data from Bloomberg Second Measure analytics. ​

Lyft users also can avoid the app

Lyft approaches its potential market of older adults who need a ride but are uncomfortable with technology a little differently, says spokesman Donny Nordlicht. Lyft partners with Best Buy Health to offer users of a Lively Jitterbug phone an operator-assisted way to book a Lyft ride, one of several ways Lyft customers can hitch a ride without the app.

Learn online

Senior Planet from AARP has occasional online classes on using ride-hailing apps.

1. Go to the Senior Planet classes page.

2. Type ride hailing in the 🔍 Search for classes box.

3. Click on the red Find Classes button.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a class offered. Check back in a few weeks, look for a location near you under the In-Person Classes drop-down menu, or call the Senior Planet Hotline number listed on the page to request the topic.

Other methods involve health care providers and transit agencies that work with Lyft to arrange patients’ rides, Nordlicht says. People without smartphones can get a call on a landline to learn the pickup details.

Lyft also provides free or discounted rides through 211, a free referral and information line that connects older adults and others to local health and human services resources through a partnership with United Way. 

Lively Jitterbug phone users press zero to ring a care adviser, not a telephone company operator. If the caller needs a ride, the care adviser contacts Lyft. The Lively adviser tells the caller the driver’s name; estimated arrival time; make, model and license plate of the car; and the trip’s estimated cost. The adviser stays on the line to convey any updates until the customer is picked up.

As with the app, no cash or credit card is needed. The cost of the Lyft ride is added to the user’s phone bill.

Uber callers need a smartphone

Uber customers can dial 833-USE-UBER (873-8237) to request a ride in English or Spanish. The service is available 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET nationwide.

Once a trip request has been accepted, the rider receives a text message with the driver’s name, picture, license plate number and estimated time of arrival. A follow-up text message is sent once the driver arrives at the pickup location. This means that rides cannot be requested using a landline.

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About 1.3 percent of all adults live in households that have a landline phone only, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey spanning July to December 2022. About a quarter have a landline as well as access to a cellphone. 

If a customer does not have an Uber account, an agent will create one for them. Payment is provided over the phone via credit card. The service comes with a $5 fee when requesting an UberX, the most basic ride option offered by Uber. Typically, cars are sedans or SUVs that can seat up to four passengers.

The more expensive ride options don’t have a service fee. This includes UberXL, which guarantees a larger vehicle that can seat up to six passengers. Uber Black matches riders with top-rated drivers in luxury vehicles.

spinner image two phone screens showing uber ride confirmation
Examples of text messages sent after requesting a ride and confirming a trip.
Courtesy Uber

In 2020, Uber conducted a pilot program for 833-USE-UBER in Arizona and Florida. Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, introduced a similar service named Call a LyftRide in 2021, targeting older adults and those without access to the Lyft app in select cities in Florida.

About 600,000 adults 70 and older stop driving each year, according to USAging, the national association for Area Agencies on Aging. Providing accessible transportation allows them to live independent lives longer.

This story, originally published May 17, 2023, was updated with additional information about using Lyft without an app and a way to find Senior Planet online classes about ride-hailing apps.

Contributing: Linda Dono

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