In the age of services like Uber and Lyft, some groups still struggle to find methods of safe and cost-effective transportation. For individuals 60 and older or people with visual impairments, a nonprofit offering dignified transportation has seen a surge of success in St. Charles communities.
ITNStCharles is an affiliate of ITNAmerica [Independent Transportation Network], an effort that began in Maine over two decades ago. The catalyst for the nonprofit’s creation was an accident in which a 3-year-old child was severely injured after being hit by an 84-year-old driver.
The child’s mother, Katherine Freund, did not lash out at the driver, but she did become angry at the system. Freund knew that crashes caused by older people were not the problem – they were the result of a transportation system that wasn’t meeting the needs of an aging population. She was determined to change that. The result was the first-ever Independent Transportation Network to help provide economically viable transportation to elderly or visually impaired people.
In 2005, ITNAmerica was officially formed to create a unique transportation network across the country. Today, there are 13 affiliates throughout the U.S. The ITNStCharles program began operations in April 2010. Unlike other local services, such as OATS or the County Older Residents Program [CORP] Neighbors Driving Neighbors program, the ITN service is not limited to transporting individuals for grocery shopping or medical appointments.
“It’s just like taking a friend somewhere,” explained ITNStCharles volunteer Libbey Tucker. “I’ve driven a lady to bingo. I take a gentleman to church and I’ve taken someone to a dental appointment. It sort of runs the gamut of any of those things.”
ITNStCharles requires potential riders to complete an application and pay annual administration fees. Riders set up a personal transportation account and rides are deducted as they are taken. No money exchanges hands in the vehicles.
Over 45,000 rides have been given so far in St. Charles, averaging about 900 rides a month in the past year, with a team of 30 to 40 volunteers.
In addition to physical volunteers, community support also comes through ITN’s continuous fundraising program called Help on Wheels, which aims to cover the cost of client rides through monthly donations.
“The impacts are far-reaching,” Susan Kallash-Bailey, the executive director of ITNStCharles, said. “Transportation impacts economics, social isolation and public safety. All of these factors are important considerations with an aging population. We can talk extensively about any one of these, but the bottom line is you don’t want people who are unable to drive safely to just sit at home. You want them connected and engaged in the community.
“We’re all living longer, and it’s a challenge because we outlive our ability to drive.”
ITN volunteers are subject to background checks and are required to submit a driver’s license and insurance information as part of the vetting process. All drivers are identified by a name badge and a placard in the rear passenger window of their car.
“It’s easy to apply, but it’s thorough,” Tucker said.
The service’s fare is $1.50 per mile with a $2.50 pick-up cost. Drivers provide assistance with wheelchairs, walkers, packages, groceries, opening doors and escorting individuals.
To learn more about riding with ITN, contributing to the Help on Wheels fund or becoming a volunteer, visit itnstcharles.org or call (636) 329-0888.