ITNBluegrass, a transportation service for people 60 and older and sight-impaired people 18 and older, now has more than 10,000 rides under its belt and is trying some new programs.
The non-profit organization, which began transporting people in Fayette County in mid-2008, marked its 10,000th ride last week.
"We go anywhere in Fayette County for any reason. It's not just about going to the doctor," said Laura Dake, who, with Gale Reece, heads ITNBluegrass.
About 40 percent of those rides have been for medical appointments; 28 percent have been for consumer destinations like grocery stores and hair salons; 12 percent have been for trips to places of worship; and 11 percent have been for social and recreational events, according to the organization.
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Riders pay an annual membership fee — $50 for an individual, $65 for a family — and may put money into an account to be drawn from, based on the miles they travel, when they take rides. The pickup fee is $3, and the amount charged for each mile is $1.50. There is no tipping.
The memberships, pickup fees and fares don't cover the actual cost of the rides. ITNBluegrass relies on grants and corporate and other sponsors to keep the service going.
Now ITNBluegrass is experimenting with a "community rides" program, in which an organization may bank miles accumulated by its members who drive as volunteers for ITNBluegrass. The organization's banked miles are used by its members, who are also ITNBluegrass members, to travel to and from the organization's events.
A community rides program has been going on for about a year at Lexington's Second Presbyterian Church, and ITNBluegrass is looking to expand the program to other churches and organizations, Dake said.
ITNBluegrass is also exploring the possibility of offering businesses the opportunity to offer ITNBluegrass memberships to employees who are caregivers for senior and sight-impaired relatives.
It's hard to take off work to take a parent to a doctor's appointment, Dake said.
"We do get out in the community, but one of the things we're proudest of is that much of our membership comes through word of mouth," Dake said. "One of our biggest challenges is keeping up with a rising number of member riders." Drivers are in great demand, she said.
In addition to Fayette County, ITNBluegrass will now take riders into Jessamine County, as far as the Brannon Crossing area, Dake said. And, the non-profit recently trained five people in Midway to be drivers, she said.
Dake stressed that ITNBluegrass doesn't just drop people off at the curb. Its drivers provide door-through-door service, helping riders with stairs and packages.
ITNBluegrass is an affiliate of the national non-profit ITNAmerica. ITNBluegrass gives more rides than any of the other 17 affiliates — which are in various stages of development — except for the Portland, Maine, group, the oldest, which has been giving rides for 15 years, Dake said.
Ethel Tate, who took the 10,000th ride, said, "It's made me more independent. I don't have to depend on my son to take me everywhere I need to go.
"I haven't had a bad driver yet. They're all very courteous and they're helpful."
Barbara Warburton, a ride coordinator for ITNBluegrass, said she feels good about what she's doing and how it's helping people.
"The members tell us, 'You're part of my family; I don't know what I would have done without ITN,'" she said.
Warburton said she dispatches drivers to people who have to get to kidney dialysis appointments several times a week, people who want to shop or people who just want to visit others.
At Christmastime, she dispatched a driver to pick up a woman playing Mrs. Claus and take her to the Kentucky Horse Park for an appearance.
One rider takes a LexTran bus as far as city buses are allowed to travel toward the location of his Rotary Club meetings, and then ITNBluegrass takes him the rest of the way, she said. After the club meetings, ITNBluegrass picks him up and takes him back to the bus stop, she said.
"He praises the city bus system, but they just don't go out any further," she said.
Another woman depends on ITNBluegrass to take her to and from Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, where she is a volunteer, she said.
"We do a lot of physical therapy runs," Warburton said.