News

HRiA Helps Bring Elder Transportation Service to Boston Area

May 1, 2012

Local seniors who are unable to drive now have an affordable way to run errands, get to medical appointments, and visit loved ones through a transportation model that Health Resources in Action helped bring to the Boston area. ITNGreaterBoston began providing rides in January, and will be expanding its service to other communities over the next several years.

It all began more than two years ago, when Tufts Health Plan Foundation and the MetroWest Health Foundation were both independently pursuing the idea of funding elder services programs. They created a joint venture to bring a chapter of ITN to the greater Boston area, each providing equal amounts of starter funding. In need of an organization to set up the program, they turned to HRiA.

Work began in October 2010 with HRiA contacting various elder service organizations to get a handle on their perception of the transportation needs of seniors. In the course of eight forums with as many as 100 people, HRiA quickly learned the need was great and immediate.

“People unanimously felt there was a need for this service,” Toni Abrams Weintraub, a director of special projects for HRiA, who led the project. “The demand was so great that any option added to the menu was going to be helpful.”

HRiA recruited and hired Jean Patel Bushnell as Executive Director, enlisted a board of directors, incorporated the organization, helped open two offices in Framingham and Allston-Brighton, and hosted community forums to promote the launch of ITN in the area.

“We spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people,” Ray Considine, HRiA’s president said, referencing the eight different educational forums that were conducted as part of the outreach.

"HRiA was critical in helping to establish the organization," Patel Bushnell said. "They did a soup-to-nuts intervention, from negotiating the contract details to establishing the core board. It has been a wonderful relationship.”

One of the big benefits of ITN is that drivers don’t just stop at dropping people off at the curb. They will help people out of their homes and into and out of the car. This experience "closely mimics the experience people have of taking their own cars," notes HRiA’s Abrams Weintraub.

Another significant benefit is greater independence.

“They don’t have to rely on family members or friends to get where they need to go,” added Abrams Weintraub.

Patel Bushnell said she hopes the rides will allow seniors to feel more connected with their communities.

“Seniors really need to get out and engage with community life, whether it’s going to the library, to a class or to a medical appointment,” she said.

Seniors pay $60 per person or $100 per household to join as a member of ITN, and they can add money to their own accounts to pay for rides. The cost of rides varies, depending on the distance. Rides start at $4, plus $1.50 per mile – with a typical ride costing between $10 and $12.

“It’s cheaper than taking taxis where you need to go,” Considine said.

ITNGreaterBoston is approaching 50 members who are using the service regularly, and the organization is recruiting volunteer drivers weekly.ITNGB can offer lower rates because fares are subsidized and because some 80 percent of the driving to start is provided by volunteers, who are carefully screened and trained.

ITNGB currently has 30 volunteers— new retirees, fresh college graduates, mothers with young kids— who use their own cars but have insurance coverage through ITNGB. Rides are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to people 60 years and older and adults with visual impairments.

“Outside of Boston, there really isn’t any mass transportation system,” Considine said. “And if you’re 80 years old and frail, you may not want to be jostled around on the T or walk up a bunch of steps at the station. We believe this service extends the elder person’s ability to live in their homes. It’s a service, but it’s also a policy issue in that it maintains the independence of elders and prolongs life.”

The first phase of the ITNGreater Boston program will allow for service in Boston and Metrowest towns including Ashland, Brookline, Framingham, Natick, Needham, Newton, and Wellesley. All medical centers and hospitals at a reasonable distance are covered in the Boston and MetroWest area.

Begun in 1995 by Katherine Freund, ITNAmerica works with organizations and individuals to help develop dignified and sustainable transportation in communities across the country. ITNGreaterBoston is the 22nd affiliate of the national non-profit network, ITNAmerica, that works with organizations and individuals to help develop dignified and sustainable transportation in communities across the country.

For more information please call 508-309-7375 or visit the web site at www.itngreaterboston.org.