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Senior transit needs likely to grow

Nonprofit transportation network could close future gap for older residents

POSTED: September 5, 2013 11:01 p.m.

Members of Brenau University, the Gainesville-Hall Greater Chamber of Commerce and community leaders gathered Thursday for a transportation presentation that could change the way area seniors get where they’re going.

Hall County is a retirement destination, and expects a population of about 560,000 by 2040, about 20 percent to 30 percent aged 65 years old or older and 10 percent with disabilities, said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, which houses Hall Area Transit.

If just 5 percent of the projected population needs transportation, that means 11,200 families, about 10,000 more households than is currently served by the county’s curbside bus service, Dial-A-Ride, Moss said.

“That’s huge,” she said. “Our capacity to fill that need, for the government to fill that need, is too great.”

One solution is become an affiliate of Independent Transportation Network, or ITN America, the nation’s only nonprofit transportation network for seniors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The nonprofit serves seniors aged 60 and older and the blind of any age. It provides “door through door” and “arm through arm” private car service for the elderly who can no longer drive themselves.

INTAmerica now is in 27 communities across the country. If a Gainesville affiliate is established, it would be the first in Georgia.

Kathy Amos is executive director of Brenau’s Center of Lifetime Study that houses the Wisdom Project, a senior leadership program that is a initiative of Vision 2030, a community group developed out of the chamber.

Losing the ability to drive and its loss of independence is a hard part of the aging process to face, Amos said.
“How do we create something that Hall County becomes a mecca for retirees?” she said. “And when they come here, they come here with the knowledge that they get what they really need.”

“Everyday, 10,000 people are turning 65 (years old),” said Erika Walker of Sage Wave Consulting and a Wisdom Keeper graduate.

Walker said the fastest growing segment of the population is ages 85 and older.

“We’re doing an injustice if we didn’t try to address that in some way,” she said.

INTAmerica offers a personal transportation account that can pay for rides. Younger seniors can also volunteer to drive seniors and earn credits for when they can no longer drive. Fares are subsidized by grants and personal donations.

Some affiliates use public money and some don’t, which is recommended. Low-income seniors may get scholarships through the nonprofit to pay for their rides. Seniors who want the service have to pay a membership fee, a base fee and the mileage rates.

Walker said they don’t have the exact amount of how much the program would cost for the Gainesville area or what the rates would be. A representative of INTAmerica said it typically costs about $150,000 to start up an affiliate.

Community officials are moving forward on the idea by developing a steering committee.

The process to join INTAmerica include the initial application, finding a fiscal agent, raising startup funds and signing the affiliate agreement.

The community must meet certain criteria, which Gainesville met, but Atlanta didn’t, Walker said. INT helps with support such as marketing materials and a budget template, plus sustainability indicators.

Moss said the affiliate program could help local public transit by turning its focus from seniors to providing services to the local general public.

Pat Freeman, executive director of Legacy Link, a nonprofit that helps seniors said it was an interesting presentation.

“I still have a lot of questions, but they’ll be answered as time goes by,” Freeman said.


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