What if you can't use Uber, Lyft, or public transportation?

For Philadelphia seniors who no longer drive, people with disabilities, and school-age children, reliable transportation can be hard to find. Since 1984 — long before the advent of ride-sharing apps — the nonprofit Riders' Club Cooperative in Montgomery County has filled this need.

Individuals or families can join the Riders' Club Co-op, which also partners with retirement communities such as Cathedral Village, the Hill at Whitemarsh, Abington VNA Aging at Home, and the Wayne Senior Center, as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Rhawnhurst NORC, to transport clients for shopping, weddings and funerals, medical appointments, social functions, and religious services.

"We also provide special-needs transportation for two suburban school districts and work with a number of private schools and their student families," said Paxton Wray, who founded the co-op.

Riders’ Club Co-Op founder Paxton Wray (right), with assistant and scheduler Marianne Fluehr at the organization’s headquarters in Erdenheim.
Erin Arvedlund
Riders’ Club Co-Op founder Paxton Wray (right), with assistant and scheduler Marianne Fluehr at the organization’s headquarters in Erdenheim.

Wray, a retired Presbyterian minister, started the group for a very personal reason: safe transportation for his son and daughter.

"I was always aware of the limitations that my daughter's low vision would place on her life, and my son, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis years ago, is using Riders' Club to get back and forth to work," Wray said.

"Riders' Club accepts those who experience old age and disability as part of the variety of the human condition, and encourages these people to boost themselves by acting through a nonprofit cooperative that allows them to partake of the medical, social, educational and job-related advantages available to all of us," he added.

During the last year, Riders' Club Co-op provided more than 29,000 rides, operating under the same member-owned-and-operated concept as Mount Airy's Weavers Way Co-op. Though the organization is based in Montgomery County, drivers travel to other counties, as well.

There are two classes of Riders' Club membership: household/individual, and corporate/supporting.

Each membership class pays a $99 yearly fee, plus per-ride charges based on time and distance. One-way or round-trip rides are provided by insured drivers — mostly retirees, Wray added — who use their own cars or minivans. Each driver must have three years' accident-free and ticket-free driving, and must pass a criminal-background check. Drivers carry photo IDs and signs showing that they drive for the co-op.

Rides must originate within the areas served by the co-op, but can be to just about anywhere, and for virtually any reason. Riders' Club is self-supporting and self-sustaining, owned and operated by the members through an elected board of directors. It accepts no public funds or outside grants to cover its operating expenses.

Other options for rides exist in the region, but many are run by agencies with much larger budgets. Surrey Services for Seniors in Devon offers rides in Delaware and Chester Counties weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Membership costs $35 a year. SEPTA's Shared-Ride program is an advance-reservation ride-sharing service offered on a space-available basis to those 65 years and older who are residents of Philadelphia. To register, visit www.septa.org or call weekdays at 215-580-7145.

Meanwhile, the Riders' Club Co-op, whose headquarters are at the corner of Chesney Lane and Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim, operates on a shoestring and is staffed minimally to keep members' expenses down.

The group can be especially helpful for parents who need school pickups or peace of mind knowing how and when their kids will get to and from classes or jobs.

"We had one father whose disabled daughter couldn't ride the public bus because the stops were just too far from her job," Wray said. The father set up a membership for the family, and his daughter gets a ride to and from work every day.

The coop's transportation for children includes onetime and regularly scheduled pickups for school, camp and after-school activities. It also offers "door through door" escort, in which co-op drivers transporting children will not leave them unless or until an adult is present to receive them safely.

Granted, the Riders' Club scheduling is old-fashioned: "We're often calling twice, and often three times, to check addresses and phone numbers," said assistant and scheduler Marianne Fluehr.

Why? Because many seniors and children don't use smartphones.

Rides are available Mondays through Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and are booked at least a day in advance by phone. For more information, call 215-836-1376 during business hours or go to www.ridersclubcoop.org.