It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (Monday 9th – 15th May 2022) and the focus this year is on the exploration of loneliness and its effect on our mental health. What practical steps can we take in the effort to reduce the experience of loneliness and isolation for the most vulnerable in our society?
Millions are affected by periods of loneliness and isolation around the UK every year, but these figures have grown exponentially over the last 12-18 months. Research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that loneliness is particularly rife in the elderly population, lately as a direct result of the global coronavirus pandemic.
What can we as a community do to combat loneliness?
For many of us, our relationships with friends and family are some of the most important encounters we have on a daily basis yet in a society where communication is so easily accessible, there are many among us who lack access to the meaningful social connections that most of us take for granted. We believe that one of the most prevalent causes of social isolation and loneliness is a lack of access to suitable or available transportation.
The correlation between loneliness and transportation is nothing new; in fact it was highlighted in a government strategy to tackle loneliness back in 2018. Creating a transport network that enables people’s social connections and helps people be better connected to their community was one of the core foundations of a government strategy which pledged continued support for the wider community transport sector. In fact, a local authority Toolkit was prepared by the government in April 2022 with actionable recommendations for steps designed to improve social inclusivity by way of Demand Responsive Transport opportunities.
While many older people enjoy free local bus travel or other similar transport concessions, many are still hampered by a lack of local transit opportunities in rural areas or face mobility challenges that prevent them from easily accessing places where they could socially interact. But what if these individuals had access to a service that catered to their particular needs? Systems designed to manage transportation requests from multiple passengers headed in different directions with a free-floating fleet of vans and minibuses adapted for all needs and requirements, for instance?
Could we begin to break the cycle of loneliness and isolation in our vulnerable groups by providing demand-responsive transportation solutions through local council backed schemes and projects?
Under the Rural Mobility Fund, the Department for Transport released £20 million in funding for Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) in rural areas in early 2021. The Rural Mobility Fund’s goal was to provide better transportation solutions for local residents and promote community connectivity. Public and charity sectors have also been invited to apply for grants of up to £500,000 from Her Majesty’s Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund to pilot projects that aim to reduce loneliness through transport schemes.
How can Zeelo help support your council’s DDRT needs?
Zeelo’s DDRT solutions are as flexible as they need to be in order to suit public needs, whether this be the provision of transport as a system to assist vulnerable members of the community or adapting to shifting demand for various passenger or trip types.
As stated above, local councils are now being empowered to consider the role of transport in tackling loneliness. Many of the elderly most in need of assistance live alone or in sheltered housing, with little or no interaction with family or friends. In regular times, many of them find it difficult to leave their homes or can find it challenging to use existing transit systems that may not be best equipped to deal with their individual needs or schedules. These issues have only increased in recent years, fueling the need for cost-effective, fully inclusive and optimised demand responsive transport.
Zeelo can match demand by adding or removing bus/coach operators on an as-needed basis, allowing us to deal with disparate shifts throughout the year. Zeelo’s training and onboarding team can help local councils in adding operators to the service, with a particular focus on working with local family owned and operated SMEs.
Journeys with Zeelo are based on a combination of pre or on-demand booking, with customisable prioritisation between the two. Passengers will be able to book and manage their rides through client-branded (iOS/Android) mobile apps or designated websites. Elderly riders, and those who may be supporting them, will be able to track past, present and future rides at every step of the way for assured peace of mind, similar to the tracking you might find on an Uber trip.
Zeelo has a world-class in-house customer service and live-ops centre available 24/7. Whenever an issue or concern arises, our team is available by phone, webchat, social media, or email. Our customer service representatives stand ready to handle any vulnerable passenger needs, and our live-ops centre keeps track of daily transportation operations with drivers. We strive for excellence and enjoy the faith that our riders place in us; we are extremely proud of the 4.8/5 Trustpilot service rating we have cultivated over the years.
DDRT could be the answer to an increasingly isolated population. A lot of vulnerable people are at risk of becoming socially isolated because they don’t have access to public transportation or they don’t want it. DDRT could help them find connections with other people in their communities and ensure that the experience of loneliness and isolation is a thing of the past.