Rideshare plan for addicts in treatment coming to Cabell

April 4, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Starting in June, Cabell County will be the proving ground for a one-year pilot program designed to connect West Virginians in long-term recovery with free, reliable transportation through rideshare platforms like Uber or Lyft and through local volunteer drivers.

The Appalachian Regional Commission has granted $250,000 toward subsidizing the program, which will be based in Huntington and overseen by the Tri-State Transit Authority, said Brian Gallagher, chairman of the West Virginia Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse.

Funding would pay for Uber and Lyft rides to and from necessary stops, such as treatment or counseling, for qualified applicants in middle to long-term stages of addiction recovery.

“Anyone who deals with substance use disorder will tell you that transportation is always a problem,” Gallagher said Tuesday. “They have to go everywhere a person without this disease has to go, like to get groceries, as well as everywhere you have to go to deal with this disorder.

“Transportation is a huge issue in recovery, and we’re really trying to crack this nut.”

Aside from substance use disorder’s disproportionate impact on low-income

individuals, who may already struggle to secure reliable transportation, many also have suspended or revoked driver’s licenses stemming from their drug use.

Gallagher said the pilot is a good start to solving the problem, but added the solution needs to be both sustainable — not simply funded through a finite, one-year grant, and scalable, meaning it could be equally applied to any community in West Virginia — to be a permanent success.

The obvious barrier to duplicating the program in more rural parts of West Virginia is that Uber and Lyft, the nation’s two largest rideshare companies, do not operate outside the state’s urban centers such as Huntington or Charleston.

That problem could be addressed by programs employing their own volunteer drivers, Gallagher added — particularly those who are in long-term recovery themselves. Volunteers may also be able to drive vehicles donated by the Good News Mountaineer Garage in Charleston, which provides vehicles to those in need.

For their efforts, volunteers may be granted the opportunity to expunge traffic offenses from their records, Gallagher said, adding he’s been in contact with Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Corky Hammers. After a set time of volunteering, likely a year, volunteer drivers may also be gifted their own vehicle from Good News Mountaineer Garage.

“This has a lot of potential upside because it’s going to give these people hope,” Gallagher said. “It’s scalable and it’s sustainable in West Virginia, so we have a lot of enthusiasm for this project.”

The program at first will likely be limited to those in established recovery programs like PROACT in Huntington and those in moderate to long-term recovery, like those completing drug court. Passes for rides will have to be OK’d by program coordinators.

The pilot will provide rides as far as around Wayne and Point Pleasant in West Virginia, but not in Ohio and Kentucky, Gallagher said.