After seeing a surge of success in St. Charles, a nonprofit offering dignified transportation could be available as soon as the spring of 2018.
The nonprofit is ITNGateway, an affiliate of ITNAmerica [Independent Transportation Network] and an offshoot of ITNStCharles.
The original ITN effort began in Maine over two decades ago in response to 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. To do so, she began working toward a master’s degree in public policy at the Edmund Muskie School of Public Service in Portland and analyzing transportation for older people. 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.
According to Chesterfield Assistant City Administrator Libbey Tucker, the nonprofit is working to expand services into West St. Louis County after a need was identified in the local area. Tucker is a six-month volunteer with ITNSt Charles and a member of the St. Louis County steering committee.
“Some of the top calls we get for senior services in Chesterfield are for transportation,” Tucker said. “I probably average a couple calls a week from seniors or their adult children seeking transportation alternatives. It was identified as a need by the Older Adult Task Force [in Chesterfield] to help people age in their homes.”
As in St. Charles, the St. Louis County program would provide transportation services to seniors and individuals, age 21 and older, with visual impairments.
To facilitate its operation, ITNGateway received a $32,000 grant through the Federal Transit Administration Section 5310 Fund, but it needs an additional $50,000 to really get the project rolling, steering committee members say.“I’ve written grants, and I’m hoping to be awarded additional funds,” Susan Kallash-Bailey, the executive director of ITNStCharles, said. “We have almost an additional $10,000 committed, so if we were able to raise another $40,000 to $50,000, I feel like we would have what we need to begin providing service in St. Louis County.”
The newest local branch officially has office space for their services located in Vouga Elder Law & Estate Planning along Clarkson Road in Chesterfield. The space was donated to ITNGateway for starting the local transportation service. Office furniture also was donated.
“That was a big win for us, to get that office space,” Tucker said.
Unlike other local services, such as OATS or the County Older Resident Program [CORP] Neighbors Driving Neighbors program, the ITNGateway service is not limited to transporting individuals for grocery shopping or medical appointments.
“It’s just like taking a friend somewhere,” Tucker said. “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. The same will be true of ITNGateway.
In St. Charles, over 45,000 rides have been given so far, averaging about 900 rides a month in the past year, with a team of 30 to 40 volunteers. Support also has been received via donations from people, organizations, grants and municipalities. That model also will support ITNGateway. For example, the city of Clayton has already committed $2,500.
Money also is raised through ITN’s continuous fundraising program, Help on Wheels, which aims to cover the cost of client rides through monthly donations and allows individuals to support the cause with or without volunteering as drivers.
“The impacts are far-reaching,” Kallash-Bailey 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.”
According to Kallash-Bailey, studies have shown that by 2030, about 43 percent of the local population will be over 65. The statistic is part of a study from the St. Louis County Planning Age Friendly Initiative. According to another study by the Missouri Office of Administration, the 45-64 age group is estimated to grow by an additional 246,000, or 20 percent, to a final population of 1.5 million nationally by the year 2030.
“We’re all living longer, and it’s a challenge because we outlive our ability to drive,” Kallash-Bailey said.
Plans are for ITNGateway to begin providing transportation in the spring of 2018 to St. Louis County residents of the following ZIP codes: 63005, 63011, 63017, 63105, 63117, 63124, 63130, 63131, 63132, 63141, 63143, 63144 and 63146.
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. The other half of the cost is secured through community support, grants, donors and fundraisers. Drivers provide assistance with wheelchairs, walkers, packages, groceries, opening doors and escorting individuals.
To learn more, visit www.itngateway.org or call (636) 329-0888.
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Mary Shapiro contributed to this article