Where: Lanier Tech Business Incubator at Brenau East Campus, 999 Chestnut St., Gainesville
Launch date: April 25
Fares: pickup charge, $4; otherwise, $1.20 per mile. A scholarship program is available for low-income riders.
More info: iTNLanier.org or 678-696-0360
Health issues may have forced Marsha Wright to stop driving, but she still needs to get to doctor’s offices and other important places.
And that need isn’t going away for the Gainesville personal care home resident.
“It’s so hard to ask (for rides), and as the years go by, asking for help with transportation gets harder all the time,” Wright said. “If it’s (readily) available, you feel more independent.”
She may be able gain that feeling through a new program, Independent Transportation Network Lanier, or iTNLanier, which is set to launch in Hall County on April 25.
The volunteer-run program offers discounted fare-based transportation for seniors — a need that has risen in Hall, especially as older adult communities such as Cresswind at Lake Lanier and Village at Deaton Creek have sprawled.
iTNLanier aims to provide “arm-in-arm, door-through-door” rides to residents 60 and older who can no longer drive, as well as the visually impaired.
The 24/7 service can help get to doctor visits, attend church, go grocery shopping or gather for social events.
“We’ve had ups and down (in starting the service), but the fever is building (to start it),” said Jerry Butler, the organization’s treasurer.
“We were concerned about the number of volunteers that we have, but it seems like in the last couple of weeks, the floodgates have opened and we have a nice set of drivers to get started with,” he said.
The agency goes through background checks and other measures “to make sure we’re delivering a safe and enjoyable experience for our members,” he added.
Transportation for seniors emerged as an idea from the Wisdom Project, a senior leadership program sponsored by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
“A focus of that was how do we improve the lives of seniors in the future (as this is) a growing population,” Butler said. “We looked at a lot of different avenues, but transportation was always a big one.”
Data shows that Hall County has an estimated 42,000 residents over age 55, and more than 8,000 of them are 74 and older.
One of the effort’s heavy hitters has been iTNLanier co-chairwoman Erika Walker, who runs a South Carolina-based company that helps businesses and communities across the country prepare for a growing aging population.
“It has been a long process,” she said about starting iTNLanier. “You have to be persistent and passionate about it.
“And we’re not done by any means. We’re seeking additional volunteer drivers, (riders) and donations,” she said.
Tricia Desir, who lives in East Hall, is hoping her mother, Marlene Desroches, will become a rider, especially as their “family dynamics” have changed over the past couple of years.
When Desroches first moved from New York to live with her daughter a few years ago, Desir was a stay-at-home mom.
“I took her everywhere,” Desir said. “It was no problem.”
Then, Desir returned to school and later entered the workforce full time.
“I can’t take her everywhere she needs to go,” she said. “If you’re in an area where (public) buses don’t reach you, you’re out of luck. You have to depend on taxis or friends who can pick her up or drop her off.”
Hall Area Transit operates a fixed-route bus service, Gainesville Connection, and Dial-A-Ride, a curbside transportation service that requires reservations at least 48 hours before pickup.
Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates Hall Area Transit, said she doesn’t see iTNLanier as competition “so much as I see it as providing a customized transportation option for our rapidly growing and graying community.”
Moss, who serves on the ITNLanier Advisory Board, added: “I support the creation of this new service because I recognize that some older adults and visually impaired persons require individualized attention that is not typical of a public transit system.
“The concierge nature of ITNLanier makes it an attractive option for folks who not only want a ride to the doctor, but may want someone to stay with them through the actual appointment.”
At 79, John Ross has signed up as volunteer driver to help others who need the service.
“I think it’s something that’s needed,” he said.
But his service will provide another, more personal benefit. It’ll enable him, through hours he puts into the effort, to bank hours for when he’ll need to be a rider, not a driver.
“We are downsizing to one car and if we need another car, I can get a ride for free,” said Ross, who lives in Lanier Village Estates, a North Hall retirement community.