Monday, February 13, 2006

Mobility solution for seniors

A neat program profiled in the Christian Science Monitor where elderly who no longer feel like they can drive safely can donate their car in exchange for 24/7 on-demand rides.
With 78 million baby boomers nearing retirement, local and state leaders are scrambling to devise transportation alternatives for seniors. The goal? Get them off the road when they no longer should drive, yet keep them integrated in their communities.

Programs across the country offer seniors incentives to give up their keys. Perhaps the most effective is the ITN model (Independent Transportation Network), which, because of its flexibility and availability to all income levels, is quickly expanding nationwide.

The service, which began in Portland in 1995, provided more than 15,200 rides there last year with four cars, operated by 50 volunteers and six paid part-time drivers. Seniors can trade in their cars to the program and use the money to pay for rides, which average about $8. Family and friends can add to their accounts by donating time as volunteers, or by donating cars or cash. The service is available 24/7.

Katherine Freund, who founded the program as an outgrowth of her graduate school project, says the key is that it uses no taxpayer money. Even if society wants all seniors to be entitled to transportation, she says, there is not enough money to meet that goal. That is how she came up with the model of a car trade-in.

"I thought, 'here is all this equity depreciating in driveways from coast to coast,' " she says.

Pretty clever concept, and certainly seems to be a good fit for a car-based city like Houston.


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