New transit network to make seniors more mobile

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 26, 2012

A new program is promising to put the Motor City in reach of senior citizens who have hung up the car keys for good.

Starting this November, a nonprofit senior transportation group called Independent Transportation Network Metro Detroit is scheduled to begin hitting the roads of Oakland County and parts of Detroit.

The metro Detroit initiative has earned support from groups like AARP Michigan and the Area Agency on Aging-1B. It will be the 21st U.S. affiliate of ITN, which is headquartered in Portland, Maine.

The metro Detroit chapter’s founder, Robert Tell, said he has wanted to start a transportation program for seniors for almost nine years. He said the drive to organize began to pick up steam around three years ago.

“In Oakland County or most parts of the region, we have terrible mass transit,” he said. “If you want to drive, you’re isolated in your house unless you can get someone to drive you somewhere.”

Tell said ITN is for senior citizens ages 60 and up or adults who have eyesight issues but want independence from being stuck at home. Its mission is to offer dignified transportation door to door, using the more-familiar private vehicles and cars instead of large buses.

The option comes as Oakland County officials have warned of an oncoming “silver tsunami” that will shift demographics toward older age groups.

“The need is there all over the country,” Tell said. “People can’t drive anymore. Everyone outlives their ability to drive by about eight years. … People our age want to get around and play golf, go to movies, go to restaurants, go to the opera.”

ITN Metro Detroit Executive Director Lori Fidler explained that many seniors want the same kind of feeling they had when they were behind the wheel — only now as a passenger.

She said seniors may use the service 24/7, 365 days a year for excursions such as trips to doctor’s appointments or the Fox Theatre. Volunteer drivers are screened and undergo training, she said.

Customers can call or go online for an application. After paying a $50 annual membership fee, seniors can pay into an account for local rides, Fidler said. Users pay charges for pickup and mileage, and a minimum charge is roughly $7.

“We come up to the resident’s house or apartment or condo or retirement community and help them out at the door, whether it’s carrying packages or we help them into their appointment with as much assistance as they need there,” she said.

Currently, the program is targeting some areas of Detroit and many communities in Oakland County. Those include West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills, Bloomfield Township, Birmingham, Troy, Royal Oak, Ferndale and more.

But that, Fidler said, is just a start. “We are going to be expanding in Oakland,” she said. “Eventually, we’d like to expand into the tri-county community.”

Learn more at www.itnmetrodetroit.org or by calling (248) 262-7269.