Americas Columns

UPSIDE: Caring visionaries behind Got Wheels!

THANKS to San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa and Peninsula Family Service, Got Wheels! is on a roll. 

Caring visionaries put their hearts and heads together in 2018 to bring accessible and affordable transportation, a top unmet need everywhere and even more so in populous but remote pockets of the 744 square miles composing picturesque San Mateo. 

Canepa, then a sophomore on the County leadership and the board liaison to the County Commission on Aging, concurred with Heather Cleary, CEO of Peninsula Family Service, on the urgency to respond to the challenge. 

“Mobility is key to enjoying independent and healthy lives as we grow older, and I’ve seen the need for it in my own life as both of my grandmothers are now in their 90s. I do not want them or any older adult to live in isolation but rather for them to thrive and have a support system that values them,” the grandson of Lilia Torres Canepa and Dolores Calero shared the source of his inspiration to prioritize the needs of older adults.  ”This is my vision, and the partnership with Peninsula Family Service has improved the quality of life for so many in our communities.” 

Founded in 1950, Peninsula Family Service is a private nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen the communities in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Benito Counties by providing children, families, and older adults the support and tools to realize their full potential and lead healthy, stable lives. 

“PFS founded Got Wheels! in recognition that reliable, affordable transportation is crucial for older adults to lead meaningful lives, reducing isolation and loneliness,” Cleary affirmed her organization’s steps in alignment with both the California Master Plan for Aging and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s call to action for social connection. 

Got Wheels! is a 24/7 taxi service providing up to 6 one-way rides a month for $5 each one-way ride.  It is a no-cost membership; members pay only when they take a ride. The program is open to individuals 70 and older living in 12 cities in the service area.   

“Got Wheels! is an invaluable service that I was proud to kickstart with a $100,000 grant from San Mateo County a few years ago. What started as a pilot program in Daly City to provide affordable taxi rides for our older Americans has now grown to serve 12 cities in the county with 500 participants, which shows the need for this service,” stressed Canepa, 48. 

The program gets Colma resident Aurea Cruz, 92, to her meetings as president of the local Holy Angels Parish Legion of Mary or to visit her husband, Ros, at a rehab facility in Burlingame. 

Members gain motivation to rise daily with a sense of purpose as they see their health concerns and engage in the community. They are empowered to make doctor’s appointments, shop, socialize, or enjoy the outdoors, among many activities.  

Former PFS VP-Older Adults Susan Houston, now retired, developed the program in partnership with Serra Yellow Cab with an eye toward distant municipalities, starting with Daly City, the county’s most significant.  With 15 percent of 110,000 residents 65 years and older, the “Gateway to the Peninsula” became ground zero for the Got Wheels! test run in 2019. 

In the fall of 2020, CalTrans executed funding to extend the program service area beyond Daly City to Colma, Brisbane, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame, Hillsborough, Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Moss Beach, and Montara.  Service includes rides to and from San Francisco International Airport. 

“It’s a wonderful gift,” raves Daly City Personnel Commissioner and co-founder of Pilipino Bayanihan Center Perla Ibarrientos, 86.  The 50-year resident of Daly City used to be squired by her husband, Mig Ibarrientos, until he suffered a health setback two years ago.  She credits the PFS transportation program for her visibility as a community leader.  ”The drivers are courteous and prompt.  I feel safe whether going to my office in town or attending a fund-raiser in Burlingame.” 

Ibarrientos is among 190 current Got Wheels! members who call Daly City home. Her and frequent riders’ common wish is for the program to continue indefinitely. 

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Registration for Got Wheels! is closed until further notice.  For transportation options in San Mateo County, call the 24-hour San Mateo Information & Emergency Response Line for older adults and people with disabilities: 800-675-8437.  For Peninsula Family Service programs for children, families, and older adults, contact: info@peninsulafamilyservice.org or (650)403-4300.