November 23, 2010

Web Extra: Charleston, S.C. senior transportation service turns 4



Earlier this month, South Carolina's ITNCharlestonTrident, provider of transportation to seniors and visually disabled persons, celebrated its fourth year of providing "Dignified Transportation for Seniors."

ITNCharlestonTrident became the second affiliate of ITNAmerica, which was begun in Portland, Maine, nearly 10 years ago, in 2006 following a needs assessment study of senior citizens in the area, explained Executive Director Jim Ledbetter.

"Going into the assessment, we knew that transportation would be at the top of the list," he said. "While health care, recreational opportunities and being active in the community were all critical issues mentioned over several months of studies, transportation ended up being the number one priority because it makes all those other things available to seniors."

ITNCharlestonTrident is a membership program that provides transportation to senior citizens 65 and over and visually disabled persons over 21 years of age in the Greater North Charleston, Charleston and Mount Pleasant areas, as well as some other outlying areas.

The service has an annual membership fee of $40. Members then typically start with $50 in their personal transportation accounts, with each ride having a $4 pickup fee and $1.35 charge per mile. The funds are automatically deducted from the members account, eliminating the need for them to carry cash, and a statement is sent to them at the end of each month.

"There's no tipping and there's no money, so that's a real benefit to the program and relieves a lot of stress that our members would ordinarily tell us that they've experienced when taking cabs," said Ledbetter.

A key to the services sustainability, according to Ledbetter, is the utilization of volunteers, who provide 50 percent of all rides. Unique to the ITNCharlestonTrident program is a Web-based system that enables volunteers — the service currently has approximately 38 — to view scheduled rides a few days in advance and choose which rides they can provide. The service also has three part time on-call drivers.

"We give our volunteers the opportunity to select their rides, or we have some volunteers that are available on particular days and we know where, geographically, they can provide the rides, so we'll plug those volunteers in," Ledbetter said. "Then, when we have gaps, we plug our paid drivers in."

All of ITN's drivers undergo a background check, must have three years without a moving violation and participate in orientation that includes a special focus on providing excellent customer service. Drivers are also monitored on their initial ride.

Four years ago when the service launched, ITNCharlestonTrident provided 105 rides between Nov. 15 and Dec. 30, 2006. The following year, the service topped 3,000 rides and, currently, provides approximately 6,000 rides a year or a bout 25 to 35 rides per day. Ledbetter credits word of mouth for the growth of the program.

"We get a lot of referrals from member riders who refer their friends to us. We also are affiliated, or funded in part, by the hospitals in the area, which have our brochures in their lobbies. Their social workers will also refer patients that have a need for recurring rides to the hospital," explained Ledbetter. "We also have a speaker's bureau that speaks to every organization and church that will invite us in to talk about our program."

Currently, ITNCharlestonTrident is seeking financing to expand its services. Ledbetter explained that he is surprised and pleased with the services rapid growth over the last four years.

"When we reached our first milestone, topping 3,000 rides the first year, it was almost twice as many as the organizers had projected. Since then, we've just been amazed at its growth, and it has surpassed many of our expectations," he said. "But, it also serves as evidence for the real need in the community for this program and how much seniors appreciate this type of program and service."

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