My caringforourparents blog last week on the desperate need for transportation services for seniors generated lots of comments on elder care message boards. Most shared their frustration with the lack of public transit, but others tipped me off to some great ideas for community-based transportation services. The timing is important, given today’s headline that House Republicans are planning on cutting funding for public transit by one-third.

Let me share a few of these positive ideas:

ITN America: The Independent Transportation Network is a private non-profit started by Katherine Freund, whose son was severely injured by an elderly driver. She responded to this tragedy by creating a nation-wide organization that now serves nearly two dozen cities. The New York Times did a nice piece on the group earlier this year.

Seniors receive door-to-door 24/7 ride service to anywhere they want to go. They pay modest annual membership dues (usually around $50) as well as a per-ride fee that is normally much less than a taxi. Drivers are volunteers (many are seniors themselves) who earn service credits for their time. They can use those credits to purchase rides for themselves should the time come when they can no longer drive. Seniors can also bank credits in exchange for donating their own car to the organization.

ITN began with some Older Americans Act seed money, and affiliates may use local transit dollars for their own start-up costs. But the organization aims to be largely self-supporting.

SamTrans: The San Mateo (CA) Transit District has created a very different model—an outreach program aimed at helping seniors feel more comfortable riding the bus. Keep in mind that many may not have been on a bus
in decades. So the Senior Mobility Ambassador Program  uses volunteers to coach seniors in how to use
the transit system. Of course, this can only work where a bus system is accessible to the elderly as well as younger people with disabilities. But it is a great way to leverage existing resources.

Senior Villages: I mentioned them in my original post, but they are worth noting again. There are, of course, many different versions of these grassroots non-profits. Some are all-volunteer groups, others rely on paid staff. Some are seniors-only, others are intergenerational. But, as far as I know, all of them link seniors who need rides with volunteer drivers. To lean more about the village movement, click here.

For example, Capitol Hill Village in Washington uses a membership model with annual dues. It quickly discovered that rides were by far the single most commonly requested service. And while it had initially contracted with a local taxi company, it found that nearly all those rides could be provided by volunteers. Not only does the system help the frail
elderly get around, but it is a great way for seniors to meet their (volunteer) neighbors.

Sadly, one issue for non-profits that rely on volunteer drivers is legal liability. A good overview on those legal issues is here.

The bottom line, though, is that there are transportation alternatives. It will take hard work and the good will of ordinary people. It will also take a new recognition on the part of neighborhoods, faith communites, and seniors themselves that government will not provide as much of the infrastructure people need to age in place as it used to. In that environment, we are all going to have to step up.