At Tuesday’s Sussex County Council meeting, Nancy Feichtl, who formed the Senior Transportation Cooperative in Sussex County, gave a presentation on ITNSouthernDelaware — a nonprofit organization offering affordable rides to senior citizens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The membership-based organization has an annual membership fee of $35 for individuals and $60 for a family membership in which two of the members are 55 or older, with additional costs per mile traveled. Memberships are also available for adults with visual impairment who are 21 or older.
Subscription forms may be found online, as well as in libraries throughout Sussex County.
Feichtl said the group was able to raise $220,000, exceeding the $150,000 required to become affiliated with ITNAmerica.
“We became an affiliate with the only nationwide senior transportation cooperative that there is,” she explained.
This month, ITNSouthernDelaware is launching its Phase I, which is focused on coastal Sussex County, and is seeking membership and volunteer drivers. Feichtl said they hope to start providing transportation in September.
The Phase II area, which covers the western side of Sussex County, will launch in the spring.
“The way the system works is, volunteer drivers cannot accept any money. They are connected to the ‘cloud’ that has all the accounts, all the GPS, all the routes — everything. The volunteer driver banks credits in their account for the miles they voluntarily take people,” explained Feichtl. “We will take them anywhere. It’s not just in the membership area…”
Feichtl said that, while it is not an emergency service, those who make an appointment for a ride will be provided a ride wherever they need to go.
“We will take you with your dog to the vet… Most of the rides are medical appointments, dentist appointments.”
Along with the yearly membership fee, riders pay $1.25 per mile.
“We have done a cost analysis against taxis and Uber. We are one-third of the cost,” said Feichtl. “A five-mile ride in a taxi is about $34.30; a five-mile ride in Uber is about $31.20; and a five mile-ride with ITNSouthernDelaware is under $9. It’s because we’re a nonprofit.”
Feichtl said she started the Senior Transportation Cooperative in Sussex County for “selfish reasons.”
“There are many of us around here with no transportation,” she said, noting that her son lives in San Francisco, Calif., and her daughter lives in Annapolis, Md. “They’re not going to take me to get my hair cut. Most people are like that.”
According to Feichtl, the national average of people 60 or older is 16 percent. That population within the state of Delaware is at 30 percent.
“This is current — this is not projected,” she said of the numbers, emphasizing that the need for senior transportation in the state is great.
Feichtl said the organization was given many donations, including $10,000 from the Beebe Medical Foundation and $7,000 from the Sussex County Council.
“That wasn’t big money, but that was an endorsement from you,” she said, noting that the group’s grant request had been for $35,000. “The sum wasn’t big, but you endorsed me. That kicked in the State money, which kicked in the Longwood money, which got us rolling.”
The organization had been offered $50,000 from the Longwood Foundation, if the money was matched in six weeks with new monies.
“Then — hold on to your seats — the Department of Transportation, that is $780,000 in debt said, ‘What do you need?’ We got $50,000 from the Department of Transportation,” she said.
Feichtl said they are also partnering with the Cheer Center, and will offer rides for Alzheimer’s day-care participants to get back home.
“We’re in this game together,” she said, adding that Cheer has been extremely supportive of the endeavor. “Kudos to Cheer.”
Feichtl said she hopes to get the word out into the community about the new transportation options for seniors in Sussex County and hopes people will take advantage of the program.
“There will be 4,000 members, with an average of 40,000 trips a year that the State doesn’t have to pay for, nor do you,” she told the council.
For more information about INTSouthernDelaware, or to become a member or volunteer driver, visit www.ITNSouthernDelaware.org.