It almost didn't get off the ground as planned in 2008, but ITNBluegrass, a transportation service for seniors and sight-impaired people, is up and running and looking to expand beyond Fayette County, according to its executive director.
"There were two hurdles we had to clear. The first one was raising $125,000 from scratch with no government help," said Gale Reece, who spearheaded the drive to get an affiliate of the nationwide ITNAmerica here.
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ITN stands for Independent Transportation Network.
Reece, with the help of others, raised the $125,000 startup money and then some.
"We thought we were home free, when we got a call from Frankfort that we were not legal," she said. But that hurdle was overcome too — barely — when Kentucky legislators, in the final moments of the 2008 regular General Assembly session, voted in favor of a change in the law that would allow the non-profit to operate.
Practice rides began in July, and ITNBluegrass opened for business officially in Fayette County in September.
As of mid-December, ITN Bluegrass, which serves those 60 or older and visually impaired people of any age, had about 68 people who had signed up to use the service and 25 volunteer drivers.
"We've almost done 400 rides," Reece said.
ITNBluegrass is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service that offers "door-through-door" assistance. Most riders pay a $50 annual membership fee, but qualified low-income residents may join at a lower fee. The transportation program relies largely on volunteer drivers who receive mileage reimbursements of money or ride credits that they may use themselves as ITNBluegrass passengers later or donate to others.
Reece noted that the transportation service's per-mile charge for regular service — rides that have not been arranged on short notice or "segmented" rides where more than one stop is made, etc. — dropped in November from $1.80 to $1.50. The decrease was due to falling gasoline prices.
Memberships and fares don't cover all of the transportation service's costs, so fund-raising to keep it going is expected to be a constant, Reece said. Most of the more than $200,000 that the non-profit has raised so far has already gone for expenses, she said.
"We would like to raise $75,000 this coming year," she said.
Eventually, ITNBluegrass plans to expand into Woodford, Jessamine, Scott and Bourbon counties. Groundwork for expanding the service into Woodford and Jessamine counties could begin in 2009, Reece said.
"Until we stabilize in Fayette County, we're not going to move into the other counties," she said.
Katherine Freund of Portland, Maine, developed the ITN concept after her son was injured by a vehicle driven by an 84-year-old man in 1988. Several U.S. cities have ITN affiliates. Freund was recently honored with an Inspire Award from AARP The Magazine.