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Nonprofit Provides 24/7 Transportation for Older People

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ITNAmerica logoThe Independent Transportation Network will mark its 20-year-anniversary on June 16 by launching a 60-day “Storybook Tour” road trip across the U.S., as Ann Brenoff writes for the Huffington Post. Founder Katherine Freund created ITN to solve the problem of inadequate transportation for older people, Freund writes for Forbes. She says it is the only national nonprofit transportation system for older people in the United States.

Freund was inspired to create ITN after an 84-year-old driver hit and seriously injured Freund’s toddler son more than 25 years ago. “[T]he driver kept going and later said he mistook the little boy for a dog,” Brenoff writes, adding that Freund’s son fully recovered, and an organization was born.

Older drivers have the second-highest fatal car accident rate of any group after teens, Brenoff writes. Conditions contributing to risky driving among some older people include weakening vision, slower reaction time, and side effects of medications such as drowsiness or confusion, Brenoff writes.

Noting that “We are a nation of car drivers,” Brenoff outlines the problem that ITN helps to resolve:

Older unsafe drivers stay on the road because they have no choice. Cars are seen as the key to independence and without them, our worlds shrivel. The average American outlives his/her ability to drive by about 10 years and the quality of their lives diminishes when they relinquish their private transportation, according to the National Institutes of Health.

ITN, which also provides transportation for visually impaired people of all ages, gives older people ride credits in exchange for turning in their vehicles, Brenoff writes. Its system is better than taking a cab, because drivers provide “arm-through-arm, door-through-door” service, doing such things as helping with packages, she writes.

Because of its credit system, no money is exchanged, and tips are not accepted, Brenoff writes. And — perhaps in anticipation of eventual competition from the advent of self-driving cars — ITN’s service is intentionally less expensive per mile than a self-driving car would be, Brenoff writes. Despite nearly half of ITN’s customers having an annual income of less than $25,000, only 2% of customers said the service costs too much, Freund said, as Brenoff writes.

ITN’s motto is “dignified transportation for seniors.” And along those lines, it uses only cars — not vans or buses — to distinguish itself from medical or retirement home transportation, she writes. Its service is available any day or night, at any hour, for any reason, unlike some driving services with limited hours and purposes, she writes. 

For example, Brenoff writes:

ITN provides a low-cost lift to the movies, to the hair salon, to see a grandchild’s soccer game on a Saturday afternoon. One of [Freund’s] clients is an 82-year-old man who dates frequently. “What was he suppose to do? Call his son and ask him to drive him and his dinner date to the restaurant?” [Freund] said.

People can collect ride credits in other ways, besides giving their vehicles to ITN, Brenoff writes. Some ITN volunteer drivers give the credits they receive to their older parents who do not live near them, or donate them to low-income seniors through ITN’s Road Scholarship Program, according to ITNAmerica. Other drivers are retirees, building up credits for when they might need them eventually, Brenoff writes.

In addition, people can get ride credits through Ride & Shop programs, in which supermarkets and shopping malls partner with ITN; and through Healthy Miles, in which health providers partner with ITN, ITN writes. Some volunteer drivers are college students, Brenoff writes. For example, the University of Cincinnati gives students community service credit in exchange for driving older people.

ITNAmerica has given more than 800,000 rides so far, Brenoff writes. It has affiliates in 27 cities, among them, Boston; Detroit; Chicago; Los Angeles; San Diego; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; Memphis; Charleston, S.C.; Portland, Maine; Orlando and Sarasota, Fla.; Monterey, Calif.; Lexington, Ky.; Enfield, Middlesex, Middletown, West Hartford, Westport, and Fairfield County, Conn.; the Quad Cities of Iowa; Racine, Wis.; and St. Charles, Minn. ITN’s interactive map provides information on where all the affiliates are located and how developed those branches are. 

Portland, Maine, Freund’s hometown, is the site of the first ITN program, Brenoff writes. Freund says the ITN program can work in any area with a population density of 200,000 within a 15-mile radius.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 20 states have shorter license-renewal periods for drivers older than a certain specified age, and 19 states require older drivers to have more frequent vision testing, Brenoff writes. Maryland and the District of Columbia require drivers 70 and older to get a physician’s approval in order to renew their licenses, and Illinois requires drivers seeking to renew their licenses to rake a road test, Brenoff writes.

But while preventing unfit older people from driving helps make roads safer, it does not address the question of how to help older people who can no longer drive, Freund writes in a post for Forbes. She suggests that ITN is a more workable solution than government help:

[W]ith the aging of the population and the inevitable taxpayer burden for Social Security and Medicare, how will a publicly funded solution offer anything more than rationed or subsistence mobility?

Noting that some people have called ITN “Uber for Grannies,” Freund writes that ITN’s innovations in its credits programs go beyond Uber or Lyft.


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