A new program is rolling into the Quad-Cities to help seniors have access to transportation any time of day or night and for any reason.
ITNQuad-Cities, which stands for Independent Transportation Network, is a new nonprofit created to provide 24/7 automobile service for seniors age 60 and older as well as any visually impaired adults. Through the program, riders can receive door-through-door service, including help getting to the car — such as with steps, carrying packages, opening heavy doors and or walkers.
ITN is an affiliate of ITNAmerica, described as the only national nonprofit transportation system for aging adults.
“We all are going to get to the point where one of the things we need help with is driving a vehicle,” said ITN founder Katherine Freund, who was in the Quad-Cities Tuesday to help kick off some of the local affiliate’s first rides.
Freund created ITN Portland (Maine) in 1995 after a near-tragedy a few years earlier when her 3-year-old son was seriously injured by an
84-year-old driver. Six years ago, the ITN model began to go nationwide and now boasts 21 affiliates in 20 states.
“It takes the kind of commitment the Quad-Cities showed to get to be an affiliate,” she said of the five years of planning and organizing it took to bring the program to the Quad-Cities. “We do not seek out communities, they seek us.”
Dave Donovan, the chairman of ITNQuad-Cities, said the idea came from a group of Quad-City professionals enrolled in the then-Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Academy. For the class, groups each had to identify a community issue and research a solution.
“They found that senior transportation was definitely an issue here for us,” he said, adding that they discovered ITNAmerica in their research. Although the group was not required to advance the solution, he said they stuck with it and their work helped plant the roots for what became a five-year journey to bringing ITNAmerica here.
Donovan said the agency raised nearly $100,000 in startup funds with grants from Alcoa Foundation, John Deere Foundation, Moline Foundation, Illinois Department of Transportation and Community Foundation of the Great River Bend, which provided both a startup grant and recently another $30,000 grant. It also received a New Freedoms Grant from the Federal Transit Administration, which enabled MetroLINK to donate a handicap-accessible van for ITN’s operations.
Karen McCoy, ITNQuad-Cities executive director, said the group initially will serve riders in Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline and East Moline. But the advisory board already is talking about expanding to include Clinton and Muscatine. Rides will be provided in private cars or the handicap-accessible van.
Riders must join the program by paying a $50 annual membership and opening a prepaid Personal Transportation Account, which they must keep funded. Funds are taken from the account to cover the cost of their rides. To lower the cost, they may ride-share with a friend or with another rider.
Rides are provided by trained drivers, who McCoy said will offer “arm-in-arm” service, escorting the rider from their door to the car. ITNQuad-Cities now is accepting applications from riders as well as seeking volunteers willing to drive — using their own vehicle — to assist seniors.
According to Freund, there are no restrictions on where riders can go or when rides are available as there are with other transit programs nationwide.
“The bus sometimes is a solution and sometimes not,” she said. “Public transportation never was built for people in their 80s and 90s. It was built for the able-bodied.”
With ITN, Freund said seniors who give up driving do not have to lose their mobility. “ITN helps keep the circle of mobility as broad as they want it to be.”
McCoy said the advisory board includes other transportation providers that also serve the same population, including MetroLINK and River Bend Transit, and the Bi-State Regional Planning Commission.
“We’re not trying to take away their business,” she said. “We’re trying to fill the gaps.”
McCoy, who has worked with seniors for the past 15 years, has seen firsthand what happens when a senior can no longer drive. “It can keep them from going to a birthday party. It can keep them from going to see their grandchildren. It can keep them from going out.”