Nonprofit transportation service drives seniors for "half the cost of a taxi"

Like most adults, seniors have places to go and people to see. However, as they age, navigating streets to reach their destination can become a challenge.

There is an option for Memphis’ seniors who prefer to set their own schedule without the worry of driving or switching buses.

Independent Transportation Network is a nonprofit transportation system for seniors aged 60 and above. Rides are provided by trained volunteers 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Volunteer drivers undergo background checks and drive seniors to appointments, errands or social visits. 

A local affiliate is at 561 South Prescott Street. It’s one of 14 locations across the country.

“ITN Memphis is part of a 20-year-old national network, ITN America,” said Pat Hickman, acting operations manager at ITN Memphis. “Ninety percent of our rides are for doctor appointments but we will take them anywhere within the Greater Memphis area, the grocery store, a hair appointment. We take them to church and bring them home.”

The service area for Memphis lies within the Interstate-240 loop. Locally, ITN averages over 225 rides a month.

Annual membership fees run $45 for individuals and $65 for families. There is a $1.50 per mile rate, along with a $3 pickup fee.

“It’s about half the cost of a taxi ride,” Hickman said. “Our drivers pick up at the door and help them to the car. They take you to the door of where you are going. If you go to the grocery, they even help them get their packages into the car and into the home.”

While buses, taxis and rideshares can get their riders to their destination, ITN offers will meet them at their door and deliver them to the door of their destination. Drivers are encouraged to engage customers and get to know them on a more personal level.

For example, a member recently used the service to visit her husband in hospice care.

“He just recently passed away so that was a moving experience for the drivers who drove her. They recognized what it meant to her to have an outlet to vent and talk about the loss,” said Hickman.

To join, an application can be submitted online or via mail. In addition to the membership fee, there is a $50 deposit for a prepaid debit card. All trips are prepaid with the card. Financial assistance is available for low-income seniors through their ITN ROAD scholarship program.

In July, Memphis’ ITN location gave their 5,000 ride to Lester Gingold.

Born in 1922, the 95-year-old WWII veteran worked as a manager for Sears for 34 years following his time in service. He then worked as advertising director for the Commercial Appeal for 15 years. The first 18 years of his “retirement” he took on a leadership role at Active Times, now Best Times, a newspaper for seniors. He now serves as publisher emeritus of the publication.

"The most difficult thing I ever had to do was to quit driving," said Gingold, who is one of ITN’s oldest members, both in terms of age and time spent using the service. 

To fill growing demand, volunteer drivers are needed. Plans are in the works to expand service beyond the loop. Currently, there are only three drivers. Five more are needed to meet the needs of the 200 seniors currently on a waiting list. Drivers make their own schedules.

To learn more about ITN Memphis, or to volunteer, call (901) 833-7666 or visit ITNMemphis.org.

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