ITN Monterey launches in January, with a growing number of members and volunteers
By Melissa Flores
California Health Report
Judy Daniels, a Salinas senior, doesn’t drive anymore. Her family members live out of the area and she doesn’t like to impose on friends to drive her to the grocery store, doctors’ appointments or to do other errands. But her options for getting around her town increased recently with a nonprofit transportation service that allows seniors, the visually-impaired or others with limited mobility to get from point A to point B at a low cost.
Independent Transportation Network Monterey launched in January and by March had tripled the number of rides they gave to members their first month.
“We gave 75 rides in the month of March,” said Samantha Kelley, a dispatcher who coordinates the rides between members and volunteers.
Daniels said she uses the service a few times a week and it is more convenient than using public transportation and more affordable than hiring a taxi. She also likes that the members pay an annual membership fee and then prepay for their rides so she doesn’t have to have cash to pay a driver and no tipping is required. She learned about the new program when she saw an ad looking for volunteer drivers and she started using it at the end of February.
“The drivers are courtesy,” she said. “They have nice, clean cars. They are very helpful.”
Daniels said she calls a day ahead to arrange for her rides. On a recent Monday, she used the service to get to a doctor’s appointment. If she schedules a ride further in advance, she gets a call the day before to confirm the ride.
“My three kids live in different directions,” she said. “No one lives in Salinas anymore.”
The service offers transportation in parts of Monterey County, including Salinas and the Monterey peninsula, with plans to expand throughout the entire county. It is based on ITN America, which started in Portland, Maine. Kelley said the service offers something different from public transportation or taxis.
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“Our drivers take people from door to door,” she said. “They will walk arm through arm. Our volunteer drivers are able to get out of the car and assist from the door into the car if they need help. They will go into a doctor’s office and if they take them to a grocery store they will carry their groceries into the house and help them put them away.”
The annual membership fee is $50 and then members prepay into an account with a minimum balance of $50. The rides are $1.50 per mile. As they call for rides, their credit is deducted from the account based on mileage. Kelley said they have had some members who have used the service daily and others that use it temporarily, such as a man who used it after having open heart surgery.
“He used it for a month to get back home from his therapy and his cardiac rehabilitation,” she said, adding that he said the service filled a hole in his life. “Even if they only use it temporarily for a couple months to get where they need to go on time, they don’t have to worry. It removed a lot of stress from his recovery.”
ITN does offer rides at a substantial discount for those with limited income, Kelley said, with verification of income.
The need for transportation, especially for seniors getting to and from medical appointments, is something that the Monterey County Area Agency on Aging noted as a significant barrier in its 2009-2012 Area plan. The report found that 11 percent of the county population is seniors 65 and older.
ITN Monterey received a $15,000 grant from Community Foundation for Monterey to help offset the cost of the services. They noted that 57 percent of the rides were expected to be medically related.
“It has been very welcome in the community,” Kelley said. “The biggest challenge we are facing right now is finding volunteers.”
The nonprofit has 20 volunteer drivers now, who complete a background check and show proof of a valid license and insurance before they are added to the roster.
The cost to riders is kept low through the use of volunteers such as Kimbley Craig, a Salinas city councilwoman who first learned about the service from her mother. Craig’s mother lives on the Monterey Peninsula and is a senior who is legally blind. She can no longer drive herself to appointments and on errands.
Craig’s mother uses the service for a mix of appointments, from visiting the hair salon, going to doctor’s appointments and a prayer group. Craig said the service gives her a sense of independence as she doesn’t have to rely on her husband to drive her all the time.
Living in Salinas, Craig said that for her to drive to the Monterey Peninsula area to take her mother to a mid-day appointment, it’s nearly a four-hour process with the drive time and wait time.
“I wanted to help but the problem was the time,” she said.
Through the program, Craig found that she could volunteer as a driver in Salinas, where she lives and bank the credit of the rides she provides for her mother to use in her own town.
“I have the capability of running someone from North Salinas and South Salinas,” she said, in an hour’s time. “Every day I do it, it goes to my mom to use to get places.”
Craig said she gave Kelley some guidelines to her availability – what days work best and what times of certain days are best – and Kelley will call her if she has a member with a ride time that is compatible with her availability. She said she gets the calls the day before and only once has she had to decline due to another obligation.
“It gives a certain sense of independence and dignity (to the members,)” Craig said. “It’s a friend taking you for a ride. People are cordial, kind and friendly.”
She said she has taken members to a variety of locations, including one visually-impaired woman who needed a ride to get a pedicure.
“I’ve taken an elderly gentleman to visit his wife who has dementia at a healthcare facility,” she said. “He doesn’t drive, but they’ve been married forever and he wants to visit.”
She said her mother used to take taxis, but the ITN Monterey service has worked better for her.
“It’s incredibly cost-effective and low key,” she said, adding that some people are uncomfortable showing up in a taxi. “You just pull up to your church or hair salon (with ITN volunteers) and you are just getting dropped off.”
For more information on becoming a member of ITN Monterey, becoming a volunteer or donating, visit www.itnmontereycounty.org or call 831-240-0850 in Salinas or 831-233-3447 in Monterey.