They tried. Oh, how they tried.
A group of Quad-City residents tried to fill the need for affordable, convenient, all-hours transportation for seniors by establishing a nonprofit organization using volunteers driving their own vehicles.
The group affiliated with a national model called the Independent Transportation Network America, or ITNAmerica, developed in Portland, Maine, Dave Donovan, board chairman of the Quad-City affiliate, said.
Rides were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, door-to-door. For seniors, it was like having a son or daughter drive them.
But at the end of May, the Quad-City affiliate suspended operations. Donovan said Thursday that the board is hoping to get the service back up and operational, possibly by the end of summer.
"We did have it operating and to stop was heart-breaking," he said. "The demand is there. But we're realists as well."
The service was suspended because it lacked volunteer drivers — the paid executive director ended up doing most of the driving herself — and insufficient money raised through local sponsorships and grants, which is part of the national model, Donovan said.
To be sustainable, a local operation has to generate about half its revenue from rider fares/memberships and half from local fundraising. "That's where we struggled," he said.
Helping get the service started last August was a $30,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend and a $245,130 two-year, pilot project grant from the Federal Transit Administration via MetroLINK, Moline.
The federal grant reimbursed ITN 50 percent of its expenses as it went along, including salary, fuel, office and telephone service, Donovan said.
MetroLINK remains supportive of the group, Chelsey Hohensee, of MetroLINK, said.
The other piece of a successful operation is volunteers. Donovan figures the Quad-Cities needs about 20, some willing to work 15-20 hours a week, and the group was not able to build to that level.
Because the executive director took up the driving chores herself, she didn't have time to do fundraising, marketing and recruitment that might have made a difference.
"It was a vicious circle," Donovan said. "That is not where we wanted to be."
Katherine Freund, president of ITNAmerica, said she has no doubt that the organization can succeed in the Quad-Cities. This area is among the smallest of the 22 affiliates across the nation, but that should not be a stumbling block, she said.
To succeed, "they need support from the local community, pure and simple," she said. Individuals and businesses need to write checks and individuals need to volunteer to drive.
"If one in every 100 people came forward to volunteer three hours a week, you would be successful. If 100 people would write a check for $250 to be a charter member, they would be successful. That's it. It's transportation of the people, for the people and by the people."
Freund said she recognizes the current group has worked long and hard to get the organization going, while working full-time jobs themselves. She understands that they may be weary.
She hopes support can be found so that the service can start up again, while there is an established board and federal funding in place.
The idea for the local service was hatched seven years ago after a Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce leadership class in which participants were assigned to identify and analyze a community need and come up with a solution, Donovan said.
The participants identified transportation for seniors as a need and found ITN as a possible answer. They decided to try to make ITN a reality in the Quad-Cities, not just a class project, Donovan said.